By Jennifer Lee, GCFP, Senior Moving Together Instructor and Training Facilitator, Allison Klinger, GCFP, Moving Together Senior Instructor, Chris Stribling, GCFP, Moving Together Instructor, and LeeAnn Starovasnik, GCFP, Moving Together Instructor

The Moving Together Program

The Moving Together program is an integrative, online, live-streaming group movement program developed specifically for people living with memory loss and their care partners. This Program offers meaningful, measurable benefits through providing present moment body awareness, functional movement, social engagement, and caregiver education and is designed to support people living with memory loss and their caregivers to improve emotional well-being, improve and maintain physical abilities, and engage well with others. 


The following 10 Moving Together Class Themes are designed to support positive, joyful experiences and enhance the relationships between people living with memory loss and their caregivers.  A new Class Theme is introduced each week during the Moving Together Program.

We share these Moving Together Class Themes to encourage everyone to reflect on how they might effectively connect with people living with cognitive impairment and their caregivers. 

  1. Enjoy & Explore to Create an Open, Loving, Joyful Environment

When we become aware of our agendas, expectations, judgements, or concepts of right and wrong, we have an opportunity to discover how they might be influencing us at any given moment.


Most of us worry sometimes about whether we are doing things right or wrong, or what other people are thinking about us. That worry can be distracting and can make it harder to learn and harder to enjoy the things that are important to us. 


Mistakes are simply steps along the learning process. We recognize that as humans, our brains are designed to learn. The best way to learn is to have fun and to experiment. This is sometimes called ‘errorless learning.’ Each person learns in their own way and their own time. 


We endeavor to accept what is present in ourselves and each other, without judging or correcting. We encourage curiosity and openness to new experiences, inviting a ‘beginner’s mind.’ 


What are your favorite things to do together? When do you have the most fun?  

What makes those activities enjoyable?


2. Sense & Breathe to Develop Awareness of the Present Moment
Our minds like to be active. Our minds often wander and think about the past or the future. These thoughts can give rise to powerful emotions. In people living with memory loss, the distinctions between past, present, and future can become blurred, and the emotions triggered by these thoughts can be confusing. 

In the Moving Together program, we bring attention to the present moment, the ‘here and now.’ Focusing on our breathing and being aware of our bodily sensations can have a calming, grounding effect. 

We begin each Moving Together class with a present moment body awareness movement sequence that includes deep breathing and tapping and naming body parts. Learning to Sense & Breathe can help us become more aware of our body experience in the present moment and may help us become more aware of the world around us at the same time. 

When we take the time to check in with ourselves, we can notice our breathing, and notice how we are feeling in the moment. How do you feel when you take a moment to notice your sensations and your breathing? What do you notice? What does your partner notice when they take a moment to notice their sensations and breathing?


3. Go Slow to Maintain Engaged Attention

As we get older, our brains process things more slowly. When we rush or move quickly, this can be stressful and can make it harder to learn and enjoy what is important to us. When we slow down, we give our brains the time and space to focus and keep up.


In the Moving Together Program, the goal is to Go Slow, and deeply notice what is happening in the present moment. It may also enhance the moment to notice something pleasant – bright colors, sunshine, glistening rain on the window.

Notice how you feel when you are rushing and going fast. How does your partner react?

Notice how you feel when you are moving more slowly. Does your partner react differently?

4. Repetition with Variation to Build Muscle Memory

The brain is a truly amazing organ. It can learn and remember new things without even being aware that it is learning! While many people living with memory loss may not remember recent events, they can remember everyday movements and even learn sequences of muscle movements through repetition: the body remembers even when the mind forgets. 


One of our goals in the Moving Together Program is to build procedural or ‘muscle’ memory for basic daily functions such as transitioning between sitting and standing and balancing while standing. These abilities are critical for independent function. They are an essential part of being able to sit and stand when using the toilet and to balance while dressing and bathing. 


This type of unconscious ‘procedural’ learning is especially important in people living with memory loss. By repeating sequences of basic movements, and slowly building toward more complex movements, it may be possible to help people living with memory loss maintain their ability to do daily tasks for themselves.  


What movements are ‘automatic’ for you, that you do without thinking? How about your partner? What movements in your daily life are challenging?


5. Music & Rhythm to Enhance Positive Emotions 

Music and rhythm are powerful, primal forces. Listening to music can initiate and organize complex neurological brain connections. 


Oliver Sacks, a well-known neurologist, wrote about the powerful effects of music in his 2008 book, Musicophilia, Tales of Music in the Brain. In addition, a recent documentary, “Alive Inside,” showed how music can bring back memories in people living with memory loss. 


Music can provide pleasure, calm, or stimulate. Moving in time with the music provides a satisfying experience of harmony and rhythm.  


In the Moving Together program, we use Music for a purpose, to organize physical movement through rhythm, and to promote good feelings and social connection.


What is your favorite music? How about your partner? What music do you enjoy listening to together? What do you notice when you are listening to your favorite music? What do you notice about your partner?

6. Listen & Acknowledge to Support Patience, Respect & Dignity

Patience and Respect are qualities that may help us maintain Dignity.


Patience allows us to recognize that each person has their own way of learning and processing, and their own pace and creative interpretation of that learning. At any given moment, we are all doing the best we can.


Respect is another way of saying that we hold ourselves and each other in ‘high regard.’ When we have high regard for ourselves and each other, then we can honor the need for dignity. 


Dignity is our inherent value and worth as human beings. We support each other with a sense of dignity by practicing patience and respect. 


Being curious to learn about our loved ones in the moment, we might observe subtle responses, facial expressions, body responses, and ask questions to learn more. Explore your loved one’s past and present interests, hobbies, background, favorite music, and favorite physical activities which gave them a sense of dignity and joy. 


In the Moving Together program, we value each person’s contributions both verbal and nonverbal by listening & acknowledgement.

Think of a time when you were especially patient with yourself or your partner. How did you feel? Did you notice how your loved one responded? How do you show respect for yourself and your partner? What does dignity mean for you? How about your partner?

7. Social Engagement & Emotional Connection

We are social and emotional creatures. We all experience emotions such as joy, sadness, pleasure, and pain. We laugh, we cry, and we get frustrated. We also have a deep desire to connect with other people in meaningful ways and to feel loved, accepted and appreciated for who we are. Social Engagement & Emotional Connection are important for meeting these basic human needs for all of us. 


When words are confusing, people living with cognitive impairment often rely on non-verbal social and emotional cues – such as facial expressions and body language – to help make sense of the world around them. Positive non-verbal communication – such as smiling and gentle touch – can be reassuring. 


Noticing our own emotions may help us understand and accept the emotions of others. Directly addressing underlying needs and feelings beneath the words that are said, or the behaviors that are present, can be an effective way to communicate and connect.

What are some ways we communicate our emotions without words? When do you and your partner connect socially and emotionally? 

8. The Power Of Touch to Connect Without Words

To touch can be to give life,” said artist and poet Michelangelo.


From the moment humans are born, compassionate touch is healing and nourishing. Touch is our primary language and a powerful means of non-verbally expressing tenderness and connection.


We may take for granted a pat on the back, caress of the arm, or holding hands, and science is now showing that even these simple gestures are quite profound. Physical contact is fundamental to our communication, bonding, and well-being.


In the Moving Together program, we encourage participants to join with a partner when possible and invite holding hands and moving together during class. Gentle and supportive physical connection provides a sense of safety and trust. This simple reassurance can be calming and soothing. 


Notice how you feel when you touch someone with care? How do you feel when someone touches you with care? How does your partner respond when you take a moment to touch them with care?

9. Provide a Safe Space to Rest & Reflect

Breaking up stimulating activity with brief rest periods helps maintain healthy attention. 


In the Moving Together program, we rest often to minimize cognitive load, reflect on how we feel in the moment, notice our sensations and breathing, and share our feelings and experiences. 


Having a safe space to rest and reflect opens the possibility to experience our sensations and emotions in the present moment. When we have the time and space to rest and reflect, we can feel and share, reinforcing our connection with each other.


Take a moment now and notice your breathing, the movements of your breathing, your inbreath, and your outbreath. As you take a moment to notice your breathing, you can start to notice how you feel, your sensations, you might notice what you hear, and see around you when you take the time to pause and reflect.

10. Gratitude & Appreciation to Build Community

In the Moving Together program, we end each class with sharing appreciations in the form of what we are grateful for, or what we are happy about, or what is important to us. This sharing deepens our relationship with ourselves and enhances our connection with those around us. 


The Moving Together Program recognizes the intrinsic value of each individual, independent of physical or cognitive performance, just as he or she is. Moving Together teachers model this appreciation by acknowledging each person and their contributions. Each person matters. Each person is important, is valued, and contributes to our community! 


In Moving Together classes, we form a community. Each of us brings unique qualities, perspectives, insights, and experience. By being fully who we are in each moment, we contribute to the connection, learning and growth of the group. 

As we contribute to the health and well-being of our community, our community in turn, supports our health and well-being.

Take a moment to reflect on these Class Themes and consider how the suggestions are similar or different from your approach. Without judgment, notice in what areas you feel successful, and then notice what areas you might want to experiment or adjust how you communicate and interact with yourself, and with the people you care for. Share this information with people in your life who are caring for people living with memory loss.

There is hope that we can improve quality of life and extend independence with integrative programs like Moving Together which is fun, adaptable, therapeutic, and easily accessible to people online!