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Trent University and Canada's National Ballet School Launch New Program to Study Social Inclusion of People with Dementia

May 1, 2017

Dr. Mark Skinner will study innovative Sharing Dance for Active Seniors program run out of Community Care Peterborough

Two elderly women smiling and holding their arms out

Social isolation, especially in rural areas, is a serious issue affecting the health and well-being of Canada’s senior population, which is why Dr. Mark Skinner, Canada research chair in rural aging, health and social care and director of the Trent Centre for Aging & Society, is partnering with Canada’s National Ballet School to study the effectiveness of the new Sharing Dance for Active Seniors program.

“Answering questions of vital importance to the well-being of Canada’s seniors by making connections between community organizations like Community Care Peterborough and a world-class institution like Canada’s National Ballet School is an example of what Dr. Skinner does best,” says Dr. Neil Emery, vice-president Research and Innovation at Trent University. “Professor Skinner’s leadership of the Trent Centre for Aging & Society, and the important work its members are involved in, have put Trent University at the forefront of aging related research in Canada.”

Dance has been shown to help improve the aerobic power, muscle strength, balance and mental health of participants whatever their age. The Sharing Dance for Active Seniors program seeks to address common health issues in the senior population, most especially the impacts of social isolation and falls. Prof. Skinner’s study is being funded over the course of four years by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

“We know social isolation is a common health risk for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and their caregivers,” Prof. Skinner explains. “Sharing Dance for Active Seniors is a project initiated by Canada’s National Ballet School designed to help address this issue. We also believe it will help with balance and mobility issues, which will reduce hospital admissions for seniors.”

“NBS is thrilled that the Public Health Agency of Canada recognizes the impactful role dance provides for better health through movement with our Sharing Dance programs, making this one of the first federally funded national public health intervention strategies at this scale that is an arts program,” says Mavis Staines, artistic director and CEO of Canada’s National Ballet School. “Providing funds to nationally expand these dynamic programs indicates the importance and value that Canadians place on the arts, and dance specifically, as a means of transforming lives and enhancing quality of life.”

The first pilot class of the project was held in Ennismore, a small village in Selwyn Township just outside the city of Peterborough from February to April. Nearly 20 people ranging in age from 60 to 90 participated in the class demonstrating positive, early results. As the pilot moves on to its next phase, Prof. Skinner, with the support of his CIHR funding, will employ graduate students to help compile and analyze the raw data required to produce a rigorous study of the project’s aims. Trent University alumna, Dr. Rachel Herron, assistant professor of Geography at Brandon University, is Prof. Skinner’s co-investigator and will lead the expansion of the project to Manitoba in partnership with Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is investing nearly $5 million in the Sharing Dance programs over five years. The programs will be tested in 20 communities across Canada, and are expected to expand to more than 120 communities in the next five years.