Dancing on the NHS? Our residents have been putting their best foot forward for years

Blog posted

18th October 2018

The Prime Minister’s announcement that GPs will be given license to “prescribe” social activities such as dancing to tackle loneliness is a welcome one. But, as Group Estates Director Oscar Russell says, it’s nothing new to our residents.

A big, unexpected announcement from the Prime Minister made front-page news in October. For once, it wasn’t about Brexit – editors up and down the country must have had withdrawal symptoms from not being able to use that loaded term on their lead headlines.

It was positive news too – albeit in the wake of severe concerns around loneliness and mental health, with many GPs seeing between one and five people suffering from loneliness.

In response, the Government has launched a new strategy to help deal with the issue, which will also see postal workers checking in on isolated people during their rounds.

The headline strategy, though, was long-term funding being made available to pay for “social prescriptions”. Under the plan, funding will cover cookery classes, walking clubs, and dance classes.

The theory, or aim, is to move away from other forms of treatment, which will in turn reduce demand on the NHS and should be better for the patient.

Dancing is good for the soul

DancingIt’s interesting that some of the questions around the new proposals are more to do with the amount of funding being made available and if it’s enough. Very few people are questioning the actual tactics being employed.

That’s probably because, deep down, we all know that activities such as dancing are good for us. As well as keeping your body fit (just check out the dancers on Strictly), it is also good for the mind and soul.

Dancing has been proven to help improve brain function and muscle memory. It’s even been shown that certain types of dancing are good for your brain and can offer a level of positive results not typically seen in standard exercises such as running or cycling.

Scientists at Coventry University looked at the benefits of salsa for a BBC One programme and they were surprised by some of the results; particularly how salsa appeared to improve visual spatial working memory.

This is the ability to hold visual information within the brain and then replicate it, which was tested by asking participants to memorise a pattern of numbers on wooden blocks, and then repeat it.

Professor Mike Duncan, of the university’s Centre for Sport, Exercise and Life Sciences, said:

“These were interesting results. We’ve seen improvements in these areas in standard exercise, such as running and cycling, but the dance element of this showed us something a bit different.

“This was a very quick study for a TV show, but we’d like to do some more robust research to verify our results further. These results have certainly sparked our interest. We think there’s potential to explore this in greater depth and investigate the benefits over a longer period.”

The news that dancing has positive physical and mental effects wouldn’t really surprise our residents, though. Many of them partake in regular dance classes and clubs, with a variety of disciplines practised at our villages.

Line dancing, Cedars Village, Chorleywood

Cedars Village in Chorleywood hosts a regular line-dancing club, which was introduced by resident Peter Jewell. The group of 15 have been learning

everything from ‘The Electric Slide’ to ‘The Cowboy Hustle’.

Tracy Cox, assistant village manager said the class has had a positive effect on residents and has generally been good fun:

“It’s really good for everyone to be able to get up and dance, and it doesn’t really feel like exercise. We’ve had a really good response from the residents who all enjoy learning new steps and having fun together. I’m really looking forward to seeing their progress over the coming weeks.”

Holistic approach

Many have welcomed this new, more holistic, approach to dealing with loneliness and it’s something we feel our residents benefit from on a daily basis.

We don’t set out to tackle loneliness directly or on its own, but it is effectively addressed as a by-product of the lifestyle our residents enjoy.

Dementia Care Roseland CourtOur retirement villages, along with other similar developments, have always sought to create the right environment in which our residents can thrive. We’ve always said, “we provide the facilities and it’s the residents who make our communities” – but having the right approach and facilities in the first place shouldn’t be underestimated either.

We’ve always taken a holistic approach to our developments and the health and wellbeing of our residents, which can have knock-on benefits for wider society.

For example, we cannot cater and care for every health problem that may arise in the village, but we provide a safe and secure place for residents to return to if they do have to make a trip to the hospital.

This is turn frees up beds in the NHS for other patients. So often, older people find themselves blocking beds simply because there is insufficient support for them to return to their own home.

This is where retirement villages and properties designed for the over-55s market can be part of a wider approach to dealing with loneliness, healthcare and even property shortages.

Retirement villages or communities cannot solve these challenges in isolation, but the community support, active and vibrant lifestyle and regular contact from friends and families they offer are certainly a part of the puzzle.