Patricia Hewston on bringing the joy of dance to older adults across Canada

AUTHOR(S) & CREDENTIALS: Patricia Hewston, Occupational Therapist and Research Associate at the GERAS Centre for Aging Research, McMaster University and Karolina Jalowska, Digital Media Coordinator at the APPTA hub and AGE-WELL NCE


Can you tell us a bit about yourself? 

I am an occupational therapist and research associate at the GERAS Centre for Aging Research (meaning ‘old age’) in the Department of Medicine at McMaster University. The GERAS Centre for Aging Research (GERAS Centre) at McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences is committed to making life better for older adults by bringing the best research to the frontlines of care as quickly as possible. Under the leadership of Dr. Alexandra Papaioannou, the GERAS Centre for Aging Research is leading in research and innovation in the Geriatric 5Ms of mind, mobility, medications, multi-complexity, and what matters most for older adults.

I completed my undergraduate degree in Kinesiology from McMaster University, and a master’s degree in occupational therapy and a Ph.D in rehabilitation science from Queen’s University. I have also completed a post-doctoral fellowship in medicine at McMaster University. I am an AGE-WELL HQP (highly qualified personnel) and 2021 AGE-WELL Emerging Entrepreneur recipient as a GERAS DANcing for Cognition & Exercise (DANCE) co-creator and scientific curriculum lead. I received a 2021 AGE-WELL ACCESS Award to complete the Harvard Business School Online Entrepreneurship Essentials certificate program to learn how to transform research into viable and sustainable business venture.

What is your current project about and what inspired you to begin working on it? 

The GERAS DANCE program of research is one of my current projects. GERAS DANCE brings the joy of dance to older adults in our community by making dance accessible for those new to exercise and/or experiencing memory or mobility problems. With support from the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging Labarge Optimal Aging Opportunities Fund, the idea of a dance program for older adults was born working in collaboration with co-creators Dr. Courtney Kennedy, George Ioannidis and Alexandra Papaioannou as well as older adult representatives and our longstanding partnership with the YMCA of Hamilton Burlington Brantford.

How can dance improve the health of older adults? 

There is increasing interest in the use of dance to improve mind-body health in older adults with early memory or mobility programs. Our research shows GERAS DANCE improves cognition and physical function, and reduces fall-risk. GERAS DANCE is evidence-based and clinically proven mind-body health of seniors in our community with in-person and virtual implementation. Over 90% of seniors in the GERAS DANCE pilot program rated the classes as excellent and 100% would recommend it to a friend/family member.

What’s next for you and the GERAS DANCE program?

I am passionate about finding innovative ways to keep older adults healthy and active as long as possible. My goal is to continue to expand the reach of GERAS DANCE programming to help improve the mind-body health of older adults from across Canada and beyond.