Last month I reported on a new research publication that highlighted the importance of the highly trained specialised touch used by Alexander teachers as a unique means of communication and connection. The analysis was based on an international survey of STAT-registered Alexander teachers and their experiences of teaching carers. The same data set formed the basis of a separate analysis led by academic researcher and Alexander teacher, Lesley Glover. Dr Glover and her colleagues explored the experience of Alexander teachers of working with people living with dementia, supplementing the survey data with in-depth interviews and published accounts.
We might think of dementia as a condition that primarily affects memory but every aspect of a person can be affected, from movement coordination to perception to sleep. In dementia care there is increasing recognition of the need to work holistically and so the Alexander Technique is a promising intervention given it is a person-centred i.e. whole-person approach. Alexander teachers communicate through a combination of spoken guidance and touch. Because of this, it is possible to work with people through all stages of dementia, as communication can continue even in the absence of words.
The Alexander teachers participating in the study described the importance of their gentle touch in helping people with dementia to feel safe. They also reported how it enabled them to form a deep meaningful and nurturing connection, regardless of how advanced the dementia was of the person they were working with.
Common benefits of Alexander lessons were observed such as improved movement, less pain and more flexibility. Other reported changes observed during the Alexander sessions and over time, included greater calmness and sociability of those living with dementia, as well as increased awareness of their surrounding environment. The authors also described how people were able to re-discover their voice and poise during lessons, and how beneficial this was to their sense of identity.
This study was exploratory in nature but demonstrates the potential value of Alexander teaching for people living with dementia, and the need for further research to fully evaluate this potential.
The article is available to view and download for free.
Glover L, Wolverson E, Woods C (2022). ’I am teaching them and they are teaching me’: Experiences of teaching Alexander Technique to people with dementia. European Journal of Integrative Medicine 56: doi.org/10.1016/j.eujim.2022.102200.