Is dance movement therapy an effective intervention for dementia? A review of the evidence

Why is this review important?

Dementia currently affects approximately 35.6 million people worldwide and there is an expectation that, as people are growing older, there will be a substantial increase in the number of people affected. Dementia literature argues for the need to address the complexity of the symptoms and work with the person as a whole. It is possible that dance movement therapy, an embodied psychological intervention that uses movement and dance to express and explore emotions, may be useful for people with dementia. However, its effectiveness remains unclear. This is the first review of the effectiveness of dance movement therapy for dementia and will add to the evidence base regarding available non-pharmacological interventions for dementia.

Who might be interested in this review?

It is expected that this review will be of interest to people affected by dementia and their carers as well as general practitioners, mental health professionals and psychological therapists.

What questions does this review aim to answer?

We asked the following questions. Is dance movement therapy more effective than no treatment or standard care? Is dance movement therapy more effective than any other treatment? How effective are different types of dance movement therapy?

Which studies were included in the review?

We searched databases for all published and unpublished randomised controlled studies of dance movement therapy for dementia up to March 2016, with participants of any age, gender or ethnicity. No study met the inclusion criteria.

What does the evidence from the review tell us?

There was no evidence for or against dance movement therapy as a useful intervention for dementia.

What should happen next?

Well-designed studies with a large number of participants and well-defined interventions are needed before we are clear on whether dance movement therapy is an effective intervention for dementia or not.

Authors' conclusions: 

Trials of high methodological quality, large sample sizes and clarity in the way the intervention is put together and delivered are needed to assess whether dance movement therapy is an effective intervention for dementia.

Read the full abstract...

Dementia is a collective name for different degenerative brain syndromes which, according to Alzheimer's Disease International, affects approximately 35.6 million people worldwide. The latest NICE guideline for dementia highlights the value of diverse treatment options for the different stages and symptoms of dementia including non-pharmacological treatments. Relevant literature also argues for the value of interventions that acknowledge the complexity of the condition and address the person as a whole, including their physical, emotional, social and cognitive processes. At the same time, there is growing literature that highlights the capacity of the arts and embodied practices to address this complexity. Dance movement therapy is an embodied psychological intervention that can address complexity and thus, may be useful for people with dementia, but its effectiveness remains unclear.


To assess the effects of dance movement therapy on behavioural, social, cognitive and emotional symptoms of people with dementia in comparison to no treatment, standard care or any other treatment. Also, to compare different forms of dance movement therapy (e.g. Laban-based dance movement therapy, Chacian dance movement therapy or Authentic Movement).

Search strategy: 

Searches took place up to March 2016 through ALOIS, Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement’s Specialized Register, which covers CENTRAL, a number of major healthcare databases and trial registers, and grey literature sources. We checked bibliographies of relevant studies and reviews, and contacted professional associations, educational programmes and experts from around the world.

Selection criteria: 

We considered randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in any language, including cross-over design and cluster-RCTs for inclusion. Studies considered had to include people with dementia, in any age group and in any setting, with interventions delivered by a dance movement therapy practitioner who (i) had received formal training (ii) was a dance movement therapist in training or (iii) was otherwise recognised as a dance movement therapist in the country in which the study was conducted.

Data collection and analysis: 

The two review authors independently reviewed studies on an abstract/title level and again after reading the full paper, and we independently evaluated methodological quality.

Main results: 

Of the 102 studies identified through electronic searches and personal communication, after de-duplication we screened 80 at title/abstract level. We then reviewed 19 full papers, none of which met the inclusion criteria. Although three studies mentioned dance movement therapy as their intervention, they were excluded because they were not delivered by a qualified dance movement therapy practitioner. As a result, no studies were included in this review.