Activity of the Week: Dancing to the Oldies

Put on the tunes, and watch frowns turn to smiles.
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Nothing can change your mood faster than music. Dancing raises your heart rate, helps with balance, exercises your muscles, burns calories (for those of us who need a little help), and is a great mood pick-me-up. Put on the oldies, and watch your loved one perk up.

What you'll need:

Music and something to play it on -- whether it's your iPod, CD player, or radio -- along with a clear space, so move the coffee table and pick up the throw rugs.

Why it's great:

  • Dancing is an instant mood lifter. We become alert when we hear a song we recognize, and it often sparks feelings and memories.

  • It's great for folks with Parkinson's. Your brain can more easily process movements that flow one to the other, so dancing and tai chi are great for those with Parkinson's and similar disorders.

  • Even people with Alzheimer's show remarkable recognition when dancing to the oldies. They struggle with short-term memory but may be able to tap into a song they enjoyed in their teens.

  • Dancing brings us together. We touch when we dance. We take directions, we take turns, and we get in sync or laugh when we make up our own zany steps. We connect songs with emotions of falling in love, dancing with our children, dancing at weddings. Dancing reminds us of celebrations and good times.

  • It's economical. Most of us already have music we love, or we can borrow it from a family member or even rent a CD from the library.

How to do it:

  • Dancing to the oldies is easy: Some moves will come back to you; others you can just make up.

  • Take turns picking out the song. Remember that, as a caregiver, it's important that you enjoy yourself. Go ahead and play some of your favorite songs; learning to take turns is important and teaches patience.

  • Consider taking a few dance lessons. Check at your local Y or senior or community center. It's a nice way to get out and meet other people who share your interest.

  • Try different kinds of songs and different styles to see what you and your loved one enjoy most. Do you both like dancing in the morning as a form of exercise? Does your loved one enjoy a quiet slow dance at night as a way to wind down before bed?

  • Even if your loved one is in a wheelchair or is bedbound, he or she can still dance. Put on the music and encourage your loved one to move to the beat -- whatever he or she can do.