Joy Through Dance part of memory care program at St. Barnabas

Monday, December 16, 2019 | 12:01 AM


When someone hears a song from their past, it seems to take them back to that moment in their life, said Frank Glazer, senior outreach director of the nonprofit Pittsburgh Ballroom.

So, when residents in the memory care program at St. Barnabas heard songs dating back to their younger years as part of a new dance activity, he said it didn’t take long for them to want to start dancing.

Joy Through Dance is a dementia dance program being held at St. Barnabas in Gibsonia for patients with a cognitive impairment diagnosis, according to Midge Hobaugh, specialty care coordinator at St. Barnabas Health System.

The activity was introduced to residents on Nov. 25 and is being held every Monday until their Loved One’s Performance Recital Finale for families on March 2, said Hobaugh.

The event came to St. Barnabas after Hobaugh saw a presentation from Glazer at a local Alzheimer’s Association event.

“We look for opportunities to lend joy and purpose, and this was a perfect fit,” she said.

As there are varying levels of disabilities for people with dementia or related diagnosis’, Glazer began the program just introducing the residents to music with headphones. Since he used music that was from their younger years, he wanted to have playlists specific to what they were perhaps listening to when at that age. So, it was varied from person to person.

“Music is in your head, it stays with you,” said Glazer. “When you hear a song from your teenage years it almost takes you back.”

Residents were supposed to begin dancing when they became accustomed to the music. To his delight, they were ready to dance in the first class.

“It was like magic,” he said.

Hobaugh said she wasn’t surprised because the residents who participated were used to dancing. There are about eight to 10 residents coming to the class weekly, and she is pretty certain a good handful will stick with it.

She said it helps increase mobility and just brings them “sheer joy” which is most important.

Glazer said volunteer dancers of Pittsburgh Ballroom and St. Barnabas staff work with the residents weekly, including those with varying disabilities. This is the first time they’re holding the program. He said they worked with the Alzheimer’s Association – Greater Pennsylvania Chapter in Pittsburgh at the start of the program. St. Barnabas is also partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association.

Sara Murphy, vice president of programs and services for the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Pennsylvania Chapter, said programs like these are important because it recognizes that people with dementia and related illnesses can still be active and have purpose in life, getting away from the stigma that implies otherwise.

Not only that, but dancing stimulates the brain and promotes exercise, maintains balance and provides social interaction. And the routine steps that go along with dancing is “excellent for memory,” she said.

Pittsburgh Ballroom named the program “Music, Memory, and Dance” and Glazer said they’re trying to bring it to organizations like St. Barnabas, which named it Joy Through Dance for their residents.

This program is especially meaningful to Glazer’s wife, Bonnie, who recently lost her father, Jack, to Alzheimer’s.

Hobaugh said they hold the program at their Kean Theatre which is equipped with a stage.

“It fits our core values of promoting joy, lessening anxiety, and promoting purpose,” said Hobaugh, who said they use music everyday for their residents.

Glazer, of Neville Woods, said one resident told him the program changed her husband and made him more upbeat, physically and mentally.

Pittsburgh Ballroom is a social dance club run by volunteers that holds dance events in the area, including outreach events at senior centers, health fairs, and youth programs, said Glazer.