Positive effect of music and dance on dementia proven

Summary: Participating in musical and dance activities improve the quality of life for older adults with dementia after just six sessions.

Source: University of Otago

Stereotypically viewed as passive and immobile, a University of Otago, New Zealand, a pilot study has shown the powerful influence music and dance can have on older adults with dementia.

Researchers from the Department of Dance and Department of Psychological Medicine used familiar, reminiscent music and the natural gestures of a group of 22 participants to create an original series of dance exercises.

Lead author Ting Choo, Dance Studies Masters graduate, says the aim was to promote a better quality of life for people with dementia by providing memory stimulation, mood moderation and social interaction.

Performed over 10 weekly sessions, the intuitive movement re-embodiment (IMR) program provided humor, imagination, and intuition which motivated the participants to dance and interact with joy.

The study results, published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias, show participants reported significant improvements in their quality of life after session six.

This shows an older couple dancing

“They responded to the music greatly and showed enthusiasm in moving to the music regardless of their physical limitation. Positive responses such as memory recalling, spontaneous dancing and joking with each other were observed in every session.

“These observations have certainly reversed the stereotypical understanding of this group of people being passive and immobile. The music stimulates their responses much better than verbal instructions,” Ms Choo says.

The researchers now intend to expand the pilot study, refining and enlarging the IMR program to better cater to the needs and conditions of the participants.

Ms Choo hopes further research will gain the programme support and recognition from the medical community.

“There is scope for future exploration of creativity and dementia.”

She believes the use of arts, including painting, music, drama and dance, has been undervalued in the clinical field, due to a lack of standardized conduct and consistent study results.

“As a former dancer and current dance educator, I understand the ‘less important role’ of arts in the society, as well as the insignificant therapeutic effects of music and dance for dementia, when compared to clinical research of much larger scale,” she says.


University of Otago
Media Contacts: 
Ting Choo – University of Otago
Image Source:
The image is in the public domain.

Original Research: Open access
“The Effects of Intuitive Movement Reembodiment on the Quality of Life of Older Adults With Dementia: A Pilot Study”. Ting Choo, Yoram Barak, and Ali East.
American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias. doi:10.1177/1533317519860331


The Effects of Intuitive Movement Reembodiment on the Quality of Life of Older Adults With Dementia: A Pilot Study


The creative use of reminiscent music and natural movements were reported to have positive effects on the well-being of older adults with cognitive impairment.


To explore the effects of the intuitive movement reembodiment (IMR) program on the quality of life (QoL) of older adults with dementia.

Data collected from 22 participants were analyzed: group 1 (mild dementia), group 2 (moderate dementia), group 3 (advanced dementia). All study groups participated in 10 weekly sessions. Self-reported QoL ratings were gathered through using the World Health Organisation (WHO)-5 questionnaire, alongside qualitative evidence recorded through onsite observation.

Statistically significant improvement in QoL was demonstrated after session 6. The qualitative analysis showed that the IMR sessions provided a sense of humor, imagination, and intuition that motivated the participants to dance and interact with joy.


These preliminary positive findings need to be replicated in a larger randomized controlled trial.