Feb 13, 2015

Can "Dancing Hands" Help Alzheimer's Patients Be "More There"?

As time goes on I am coming to an important revelation -- Alzheimer's is about "more" and not about "less". It is up to each and everyone of us to go "there".

By Max Wallack and Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Dancing HAnds, Alzheimer's Reading Room

“Dancing Hands” is a program that uses  hand tapping and music to engage Alzheimer’s patients.

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I think providing music in a group setting, combined with the creative outlet of producing “taps”, illustrates that persons suffering from Alzheimer's enjoy engaging in creative activities.

I spent some time studying the reactions and the faces of the Alzheimer’s patients as they engaged in this activity in the video below:

Six women and one instructor participate. Watch the video and look at the reactions of the individual women. I have numbered the women clockwise, beginning after the instructor.

Woman number 1, in the blue shirt, seems to be able to participate in all aspects of the exercise. We don’t really see her facial expressions.

Woman number 2, in the red striped shirt, often stops and watches others. Watch her facial expression. At 26 seconds into the video, she stops tapping. She obviously has a hard time following the activity correctly, but then, at 39 seconds, she is obviously concentrating and participating again.

Woman number 3, in the light blue, remains smiling throughout. She has a very peaceful look on her face. Strangely, her tap instruments get changed (shortened) in the middle of the music. She often looks around at others.

Woman number 4, in pink, participates very little. She has trouble following. Yet, she smiles and looks around. It appears to me that she smiles because she in enjoying being surrounded by other people who are happy.

Woman number 5, in white, is my personal favorite. She really tries to participate, and she finds some of it difficult. Then, suddenly, when shown to tap on her head, she connects and “she gets it”.  She realizes it’s a joke and breaks out in a great smile. There’s the “more there” look! ( at 1:11 into the video) We even hear one person laugh out loud at that point.

Woman number 6, in blue, has a mostly blank expression. However, at 1 minute 5 seconds into the video, she looks around and attempts to copy what others are doing.

Many projects have begun videotaping sessions of this sort. I think that looking back at these videos and noticing the expressions of the patients can give great insight into what really works.


Max Wallack is thirteen. He has the ability to look beyond the obvious at a young age. Max noticed "more there" while visiting his Great Grams in various Alzheimer's care facilities. He knew he wanted to do something, but it took more than a year until the vision came into his mind -- Puzzles to Remember. Through Max's efforts thousands of Alzheimer's patient around the country are experiencing "more there" moments.

Somehow, young people see something very different when they look Alzheimer's in the eye. They see the person they always knew. They want to engage the person the way they always have. Instead of deciding this is not the person I have always known, they do the opposite -- they shove Alzheimer's to the side. It might sound trite, but they just say "No" to Alzheimer's disease.

The lesson to be learned here is simple and straight forward. As adults we need to just say "No" to the behaviors that drive us crazy. The focus should be on discovering "more there", instead of obsessing on what is "not there".

The discovery that there is "more there" leads to a sense of joy and fulfillment. Not the feelings of exasperation, frustration, and angst that Alzheimer's caregivers often express as they vent to friends and family.

The Alzheimer's patients teach us that there is "more there." Perhaps they are sending us a message. Perhaps they are trying  to teach the  Alzheimer's caregiver that there is "more there". More inside the Alzheimer's caregiver.

I know from my own experience that you have to reach for it and discover the "more" in your own way.

I am becoming convinced that the "more" is inside each and every person.

As time goes on I am coming to an important revelation -- Alzheimer's is about "more" and not about "less". It is up to each and everyone of us to go "there".

More Insight and Advice for Caregivers
Original content Max Wallack and Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room