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The ROM Dance: Holistic Therapy and Activity in Assisted Living
and Long-Term Care Settings

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By Lauri McKean
Uncharted Country Newsletter Spring/Summer 2001

The ROM Dance is an innovative exercise and relaxation program that helps people with a variety of conditions maintain flexibility, strength, and cope with stress and pain. Originally designed for people with rheumatoid arthritis, the slow, fluid "dance" ranges every major joint in the body. It is accompanied by quiet music and a verse that evokes warmth, well-being and personal relationship. Instructional videos, including one for wheelchair use, are easy to use and follow.

For almost two decades the ROM Dance Program has provided a holistic form of activity and therapeutic exercise in assisted living and long-term care facilities. This uniquely adaptable program has applications for physical therapy, occupational therapy, nursing and activity. Michelle Stegman, former Activity Director for the Pittsburg Nursing Center in Texas stated, "I think the ROM Dance is something all activity directors need. We tend to think of our role too narrowly. We're part of a team approach to a care plan that involves nursing and therapies. To be able to provide an activity that offers a range of motion exercise and pain management in such an enjoyable way, meets many of our care goals."* Mark Hillard, OTR/L, Rehabilitation Coordinator, also feels that this team approach can be very beneficial. He has used the ROM Dance in therapeutic exercise groups at the Cedars of Lebanon, a long-term care facility in Lebanon, Kentucky. "For the future, I envision introducing the program therapeutically as an OT exercise, but then having follow-up in the restorative nursing and activity departments. This continuation in other areas should help the participants maintain the health gains they made while in the rehab program."

In addition to its many applications, the ROM Dance is highly adaptable. For example, it can stand alone or be incorporated into other exercise programs - often as a warm-up or cool-down component. Paulette Joyce, RN used the ROM Dance Program as part of the "People with Arthritis Can Exercise" (PACE) Program at two assisted living facilities in Westlake, OH. She played the ROM Dance Seated Version video and had the participants follow along. "The participants really enjoyed the ROM Dance movements - especially since they could follow them easily and keep up. The ROM Dance showed them that they could do beneficial exercise even while they were seated."

Others have adapted the ROM Dance movements into other exercise routines. Peggy Baldwin, an activity professional in Madison, WI, developed a 45-minute exercise routine that incorporates ROM Dance movements. She leads this at several assisted living facilities and adapts the music and pace to suit the group's desires, interests, and abilities. The response to her classes has been very positive and some participants report that they notice a difference in their health and functioning if they miss the class due to travel. Angeline Petty and other activity staff at an assisted living facility in Madison use the ROM Dance video with residents as part of a varied exercise program. "It's one more exercise resource for us and helps give us more variety." She reports that none of the residents (ages 70-90) have had problems doing the movements and they find it very relaxing. "It helps them remember to go through all the parts of their body."

Mark Hillard has his therapeutic exercise group participants watch and follow the video as he moves from person to person assisting with the movements. He has found that the ROM Dance is even appropriate for those with low- level cognition. "The video is very basic - something almost everyone can follow especially when I add my own verbal and physical cues." Mike Boucher, Activity Director for the Villa Pines Living Center in Friendship, WI notes, "because it is an easy activity to lead, we often use the ROM Dance when a new volunteer is in charge of the morning exercise program. We put the video on a big screen TV, the participants follow along and the volunteer helps and offers encouragement. Sometimes the residents are so enthusiastic that we go through the routine a second time."

In addition to its exercise benefits, many facility staff members value the ROM Dance for its stress reduction and relaxation components. Michelle Stegman attributes much of the program's popularity to this aspect. "The stress and loud music of the other exercises drove the residents away...while the imagination, socializing and freedom from pain offered by the ROM Dance got them to come and to continue to participate in our class."* Mike Boucher notices an extra bonus. "I think that the residents have a much easier time doing the movements because the ROM Dance is presented in such a slow and calm way." Mark Hillard has also noticed a positive response to the imagery. "The participants relate to it on both a physical and emotional level and it appeals to their sense of [connection with] nature."

*First published in "Focus", Vol. 16, No. 3.