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The Easiest Way to Connect With Your Dementia Residents

Are you stumped with how to connect with your residents who have dementia? If so, then keep reading to learn how to relate better to these seniors who may not participate very much in your activity program due to their cognitive decline.

Creative movement for residents with dementia

As an activity director, you are tasked with providing activities for ALL your residents – even the ones who may not find your regular activities interesting or worthwhile to do, or may just spend their time walking the halls or just sitting in their rooms looking out the window.

So, what can you do?

Well, the universal language of music works.

But how can you use music in your activity program (beyond hiring musical entertainers) to keep your lower-cognitive residents engaged?

Creative Movement

Creative Movement is a type of dance that allows beginners to explore movement through music before learning specific dance routines.

Among children, creative movement has even been expanded beyond the dance class and into the classroom as more and more teachers use it as a kinesthetic way of learning (e.g., a science teacher demonstrating the solar system by having her kids spin in the direction of the different planets’ orbits).

For your senior residents, however, creative movement is a great way to engage them in fun activities throughout the day that keep them stimulated and interested.

In fact, a 2014 journal article in PLOS One (a peer-reviewed open-access scientific journal) found that the combination of music and movement can overpower the effects of brain decline that results from normal aging.¹


Step #1: Pick a Theme.

While creative movement should be spontaneous for your residents, it shouldn’t be that way for you. By picking a theme for the activity ahead of time (e.g., animals, Fourth of July, or National Teachers Day), you can keep the activity structured so that it doesn’t seem too chaotic or unorganized.

Tip: Use our observance calendars to find fun observances to choose from to create your own themes for the activity.

Step #2: Use Visual Aids.

Inspire movement during the activity with the use of visual aids, like props. For example, for an animal theme, pass out drums for residents to beat to create a jungle rhythm, for a Fourth of July theme, pass around scarves and have residents flap them like flags on a flagpole, or for a National Teachers Day theme, pass out ribbon wands and have residents write out words as though they are writing on the chalkboard.

Tip: Find more ideas for props in our free handout, “20 Dancing Props for Your Creative Movement Activities.”

Step #3: Play Appropriate Music.

Play fun music that relates to your theme and that can help you cue the pace that you want during the activity. For instance, for the animal theme, encourage residents to play their drums faster to demonstrate the movement of a cheetah or to play their drums slower to demonstrate the movement of a hippo.

Similarly for the Fourth of July theme and the National Teachers Day theme, use upbeat patriotic songs or faster tempo school songs for residents to use their props at a faster rate (e.g., flapping flags quicker or writing their words faster) and play slower music for residents to use their props at a much slower rate.

Tip: Use free music sites like YouTube to find and play music during your activities.


There are many benefits of adding creative movement activities into your activity program for your dementia residents. Here are just a few:

Benefit #1: It Encourages Self-Expression.

Dance, just like painting and writing, is a creative way of self-expression. While listening to music, residents are able to express themselves by moving their arms and bodies in ways that allow them to explore the world around them. Such self-expression also allows residents to participate in a form of nonverbal communication that may ultimately improve their communication skills.

Example: Play music from the 1950s and pass out scarves to residents as you ask them how the music makes them feel. Then encourage residents to move their bodies freely to the rhythm.

Benefit #2: It Reduces Social Isolation.

Typically, Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related diseases can cause residents to become withdrawn and feel socially isolated because they are unable to communicate the way that they used to. With the addition of creative movement activities, however, music can act as a bridge to connect residents with others.

Example: Seat residents into small groups. (Make sure to have fun with the grouping, like having all the people who were born on a farm in one group or having all the people with more than five grandchildren in another group, etc.). Next, play fun music, and provide each group with a different prop. As the music plays, have the different groups dance with their props when you point to them. By having residents in smaller groups, it makes it easier for your dementia residents to feel more comfortable around others while engaging with new friends.

Benefit #3: It Provides Exercise.

Using creative movement activities as part of your daily exercise program can provide quality physical activities for your residents that do not carry the stigma of exercise, allowing for a much more pleasant experience where residents may want to do it again.

Example: Add several fun activities to your calendar that pay tribute to some of your residents’ favorite singers and songs, like “Dancing to Frank Sinatra” (passing out scarves for residents to use as they dance in their chairs to Sinatra) or “Singing in the Rain” (passing out mini umbrellas for residents to twirl while listening to the popular Gene Kelly song).

Benefit #4: It Minimizes Agitation.

Commonly, residents who have problems communicating can get frustrated, which can lead to agitation. Alternatively, the music provided during the creative movement activities helps to increase relaxation, therby eliminating much of the unrest among residents.

Example: Providing a structured activity (e.g., the Hokey Pokey Dance, in which you play the 1953 Ray Anthony Orchestra version) can minimize the distractions and help residents redirect their attention by having to listen to which body part they should move.

Benefit #5: It Increases Motor Skills.

Through the use of props, residents are able to build their fine motor skills by grasping and holding onto objects during the activity. Continued use of grabbing and holding onto objects can help residents with their coordination and balance.

Example: Pass out wooden dowels and play music as you have residents pretend that they are orchestra conductors.

So that’s it! That’s how to add creative movement activities to your activity program. So go ahead and get started today! Just follow these 3 simple action steps…


Pick a Theme for the activity.

Use Visual Aids by incorporating fun dancing props.

Play Appropriate Music during the activity.

Need help creating themes? Then check out our activity calendars, including our Weekly-Themed Activity Calendars and our monthly Observance Calendars, for more ideas.

¹Satoh M, Ogawa JI, Tokita T, et al. “The Effects of Physical Exercise with Music on Cognitive Function of Elderly People: Mihama-Kiho Project.” PLOS One 2014; 9(4): e95230

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