Dancing for wellbeing

How can dance help people's mobility?
29 October 2018

Interview with 

Debra Quartermaine, Addenbrooke's Hospital


Dance can be a great help to many people, including the elderly. But what do programmes like this look like, and what kind of help do they offer. At Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, the Dance for Health Programme does just that. Debra Quartermaine is the Falls Prevention Co-ordinator and the Coordinator for the Dance for Health Program in Addenbrooke’s joined Georgia Mills and took her through how the programme started.

Debra - I am a dancer by background as well as a nurse, and in 2013 I had a conversation with our Arts Department,to see whether we could bring dance into the hospital for patients. There’s a lot in the community but not within a hospital setting. So our Charitable Trust funded us a pilot program, which was incredibly successful and it’s carried on from there. And back in 2017, we were lucky enough to get two years funding from the Dunhill Medical Trust, and part of that was to do research on the program as well. So we’re nearing the end of that but it’s gone down very well and has had some very positive results.

Georgia - Can you talk me through what a typical session might look like then?

Debra - There is never really a typical session. To bear with, we are actually dealing with very sick patients here so it’s very patient led. We have a skeletal structure which is a warm up, and then improvisation, and then a relaxation session at the end of it. But it very much depends on the patients that come in, what their abilities are, and what they would like to do.

Georgia - I see. So are there any sort of moves that you could teach us now in the studio.

Debra - We do start off with trying to ground people by making sure they’ve got their feet both on the floor if they can. And just put your hands on your thighs and just literally very slowly moving your hands up and down your thighs.

Georgia - Okay. I feel like Vic Reeves here.

Debra - I know that sounds very strange but we’re looking at people’s proprioception, so do they know where their hands are, do they know where their legs are?

Georgia - Right. And is that a good indicator of their wellbeing?

Debra - Well, it’s an indicator that they know where the position of their body is. So if I was to blindfold you, you would know where your hands are. You’d know whether they were above your head, or hanging down by the side. Some people, if they have a neurological disorder don’t know that so we’re trying to judge what we need to work with with those patients.

Georgia - I see. And is it also an advantage some people being less mobile so you don’t need to do a conga line, you can do it from a seating position?

Debra - Yes. A lot of ours are seated. We can stand up, but sometimes we are working with getting patients to stand and that will often take two of us to do that, and then getting them to dance while they’re standing up. There is never one session the same. It’s incredibly interesting to walk in. And the one thing we do always say is we don’t want to know what the diagnosis of the patient is, we are purely working from looking at their body and listening to them.

Georgia - And why dance instead of just the regular physio?

Debra - Physio is very prescriptive. So, you know, you need to bend this arm ten times and it’s quite boring. How many of us really like to go to the gym?

Georgia - Not me! I’ll say straight away.

Debra - And obviously, at the moment, we’re dealing with the elderly so it’s an age group that are very used to dancing. They often met their partners at dance halls, spent Saturday nights at dance halls. They don’t see it as a form of exercise, they see it as a form of enjoyment.

Georgia - And you mentioned you’re researching the effectiveness, so what have you found so far? How effective has it been?

Debra - Part of the research that’s been going on is looking at wellbeing. And the preliminary results from that is showing that over 70 percent of the patients who attend the sessions have an improvement of their wellbeing from the beginning to the end of the sessions.

Georgia - Right. So that’s quite positive. Individually, have people been reporting they’ve found benefits?

Debra - We have. We’ve had a very interesting case not long ago where we’d had a gentleman who’d been in the hospital for quite a number of months who’d basically given up. He wouldn’t engage in physiotherapy; he wasn’t getting out of bed; he wasn’t eating very well, and he was heading towards a nursing home, which would have split him up from his wife. We managed to get him into the session; he started to engage. After a couple of weeks he was bringing in his playlist of music that he wanted. He was then starting to ask when his physiotherapy sessions were. And we kept working with him, together with the physiotherapists doing their bits as well, and we got him home.

Georgia - Wow, that’s fantastic! The power of dance. So are people, in general, when they hear they’re going to be dancing around, are they excited are or they a bit skeptical at first?

Debra - We’ve had to sort of use the word ‘movement’ rather than dance with a lot of people because they have a vision of Strictly. Getting up and having to learn steps.

Georgia - Wearing a sequined suit.

Debra - Yep. and that’s definitely not what it’s about. It’s things like we had a gentleman and his wife was in visiting and they used to ballroom dance, but they hadn’t been able to dance for six months because he could no longer stand. We managed to get him up and put a piece of lovely waltz music on and allow him to dance with his wife. Two of us supported him while he held his wife and danced with her, and I think that was worth a million pounds to see that.

Georgia - That’s beautiful. Are there any other programs like this?

Debra - No, this is unique. There are dance programs where performers go into hospitals and do performances. But our program is not around that so it’s a very unique program. There’s no other hospital in the UK doing it. We don’t think there’s any other hospital in the world doing it.

Georgia - Right. And so what is next then? Spread the good word, I guess.

Debra - Well, we’re now looking for more funding. We’d like to extend the program; we’d like to continue with what we’re doing but extend it. We’d like to work with different groups of patients so orthopedics, transplant, all of those sorts of things.


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