Feldenkrais® Method assists with movement and engagement
The idea: The Feldenkrais® Method helps people with dementia to move more freely and confidently and assists them to re-engage with their environment.
My name is Susan Free. I am a movement specialist in Toronto, Canada with a focus on the gentle and innovative Feldenkrais® Method. Although I work with a wide range of people, a large part of my private practice is with elderly people, including those with dementia.
Using the Feldenkrais® Method, I have been excited to see how people with dementia can learn to engage more actively with their environments, and move with more ease and confidence. Many can recover abilities that were assumed by family and medical professionals to be lost forever.
One of my current clients is a ninety-eight year old woman with moderately severe dementia (stage 6e). Mrs. A’s daughter arranged for me to work with her when she seemed to be declining to the point that it was difficult for even two people to assist her from sitting to standing.
When I first met Mrs. A, she was sitting in a chair with her arms and legs held stiffly in front of her. She could not stay in a sitting position without back support, and only with great effort could she be coaxed to look anywhere but straight ahead. When we helped her come up to stand, she was very fearful. She pushed and struggled, increasing her anxiety and the possibility that she might fall.
As a Feldenkrais practitioner, I saw Mrs. A’s difficulties as coming from a reduced ability to sense her self and her environment. She seemed unaware of whether her feet were in contact with the floor, how she was holding her limbs, or how to organize her movement to fulfil her intentions.
I work with Mrs. A in a number of ways, using gentle manipulations and basic movement patterns to help her re-learn to sense, differentiate and coordinate her actions. Our focus is on movements that will help her feel for support in any position, shift her weight safely, integrate her whole body dynamically and functionally, and be more present in her environment. I help her sense the difference between holding and letting go. It sometimes seems as if we are together unglueing her joints so that she can account for and move more of herself. As time goes by, we do increasingly complex three-dimensional actions. She has developed skills that help her act and respond spontaneously and appropriately to her environment in a variety of situations.
Once Mrs. A and I started working together, we made great progress. Before long, she could get up to stand easily with the help of two people, and then easily with just one person. Despite health set-backs, a year later Mrs. A is doing significantly better in many ways than when I first met her. She knows when her feet are on the floor, and spontaneously looks for support. She can bring herself from lying to sitting, and sitting to standing with minimal assistance from one person. She can sit upright for long periods without back support. She can readily feel and allow movement in most of her joints, and has a far more varied range of self-directed, integrated and functional movement.
A remarkable thing is that as her movement awareness and repertoire has increased, so has her ability to engage with other people and with her surroundings. She walks well with her walker, and is much more interested in the details of her environment. She turns to greet and respond to people. She sometimes teases me and gives me a little nudge with her elbow. We play movement games. She has more confidence. In fact, she clearly enjoys her life.
Susan Free, MFA, CMA, GCFP