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The scores are in: London hospital helps older patients to keep dancing


Posted on Thursday 12 December 2019
20191212, breathe dance session

Breathe Dance session

As the nation waits to find out who will lift the Strictly Come Dancing Glitterball trophy, older patients at Guy’s and St Thomas’ have been inspired to hit the dance floor.

The Older Persons Assessment Unit at Guy’s Hospital, in partnership with Breathe Arts Health Research, is running a 10-week ‘Breathe Dance’ programme for people aged 60 and over.

The dance sessions aim to reduce falls by improving a patient’s strength and balance, which helps them to maintain their independence and wellbeing.

From Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” to Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day”, participants use the rhythm of the music to learn contemporary and creative dance moves.

Breathe Dance instructor Stella Howard leads the sessions with support from the Trust’s physiotherapists. There’s no dreaded dance off at the end, instead they finish each class with a cup of tea and a chat.

Alexandra Denning-Kemp, senior specialist physiotherapist at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “All our patients have done incredibly well on the course and get a 10 for effort from me. I’ve seen their confidence grow each week and their progression has been astounding – some of them no longer use walking aids.

“Dancing is great for maintaining strong bones, improving posture and muscle strength, and increasing balance and co-ordination. It’s also a brilliant way to meet new people, helping to tackle loneliness and social isolation.”

Jean Whur, 81, from Sydenham, joined the Breathe Dance course after finding out she would need a hip replacement. She said: “It’s not a magic solution but it loosens you up. I don’t shuffle when I go out now. It’s a really good place to mix too – we are bonded by our limps.”

Heather Burke, 60, from Elephant and Castle, has arthritis and struggles with her mobility.

The mother-of-six, who has 15 grandchildren, said: “When I start the class I’m sore but when I finish I feel like I could run out – I feel 30 again. It’s given me confidence and I’ve become friends with the other people taking part.”

Barbara Robson, 89, from Southwark, added: “I live alone without any family so I really look forward to the classes and a cuppa at the end. Each week is full of laughter and gives me an emotional lift, which is so important. Stella doesn’t just put the music on and ignore it, she uses the rhythm to encourage you.”

The classes have proven such a hit that they are planning to continue with the pilot programme from January 2020.

Stella Howard, who has been a dance teacher for 20 years, said: “We aim to forget about the woes of balance and stability and enjoy moving. The physio studio has become our stage, in which to lift our postures and strut across the floor.”

Breathe Arts Health Research runs a performing arts programme across the Trust and is made possible with support from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity.

Hannah Dye, Breathe Arts Health Research’s Head of Programmes, said: “Our mission at Breathe is to collaborate with the NHS to address a variety of healthcare challenges through innovative and ambitious arts interventions.

“Breathe Dance has exceeded our expectations already – it’s proof that not only can dance contribute to improved strength and balance but it can enhance the general wellbeing of these wonderful individuals too. We’re looking forward to working with more patients through this programme and measuring the clinical impact dance has had.”

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