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Capotherapy: The Brazilian Therapy Offers Benefits For Older Adults

The treatment improves their motor skills, muscle strength, self-esteem and reduces depression.

SAPIRANGA, Brazil — The pandemic brought massive isolation for elderly adults around the world. To combat this in Brazil, a couple of capoeira practitioners practice their technique in the city of Saparinga, in Rio Grande do Sul.

The therapy they give is called capotherapy, a variation of capoeira that uses music and dances in physical and recreational activities, but aimed at older adults. The treatment improves their motor skills, muscle strength, self-esteem and reduces depression.

The capoeirista couple, Cleverson Silva da Rosa and Michele Correa Rodrigues, have been practicing capoeira for many years. They decided to expand their knowledge and specialize in capotherapy.

The refinement of their practice took place at the start of 2020, when the duo took an intensive three-month course with capoeira master and “contemporary therapy” creator Gilvan Alves de Andrade from Brasília.

Since then, Cleverson and Michele have applied their knowledge, especially in nurseries and retirement homes, where some families forget or even abandon their elders.

Brazilians Cleverson Silva da Rosa and Michele Correa Rodrigues are specialists in capotherapy. (Courtesy Michele Rodrigues)

“We began working at the Porto Seguro Geriatric Home in October of last year. We have seen good results, both in the motor and psychological skills of the elderly. Capotherapy music helps them remember memories of their youth and childhood. We see them sing and move with great joy,” said teacher Cleverson Silva da Rosa.

The Porto Seguro Geriatric Home first opened its doors two years ago. Nowadays, it houses 17 elderly adults, many of whom suffer from various health problems, such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, cerebrovascular accident (CVA,) osteoporosis and other diseases common in old age.

However, what surprises teachers and nurses alike, is the attendance. Every Monday afternoon, all 17 residents attend the capotherapy classes, despite it being optional.

Teacher Michele encourages her students to participate in the activities. (Luciano Nagel/ Zenger)

“The project seemed fascinating to me, and I agreed to include it here for my residents. The results have been extremely positive. Seeing them so full of joy, singing alongside the songs, has changed the whole environment. They have regained some muscle strength and have greatly improved their body coordination,” said the owner of Porto Seguro Geriatric Home.

Capotherapy classes last around an hour and include several exercises.

First, it’s a warm-up, light stretch exercises to the sound of a berimbau. The training is according to each student’s rhythm and limitations. After stretching, physical exercises are light: raising their arms, squats, stretching and bending the knee. All this is accompanied by the sound of the berimbau, tambourine and capoeira songs.

Heitor Bohrer, 87, practices capotherapy alongside his wife, Iolanda, 79. (Luciano Nagel/ Zenger)

One of the participants is Heitor Bohrer, an 87-years-old man. He was a musician, playing the trumpet. He currently lives in the nursery alongside his wife, Iolanda Bohrer, 79. The lady has Alzheimer’s and depends on the help of her husband and nurses.

“I came to live here because I couldn’t leave my wife alone. I keep her company, and she does the same to me. In here, I can dance, sing, move and play with her,” said Heitor Bohrer, who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. Despite being ill, Bohrer still plays the guitar when his wife asks him to and exercises. “By medical advice, I can no longer play the trumpet, but I can still play guitar.”

They have been married for 62 years. According to the teachers’ evaluation, since they began the capotherapy in October 2020, Iolanda has improved.

“She participated, interacted with others, and danced. We even have video recordings of her dancing with her husband. Nowadays, sadly, Iolanda’s disease has left her weakened, but we continue to encourage her to interact with others, such as sharing her favorite music,” said Correa Rodrigues.

Another resident excited for the capotherapy sessions is 84-years-old Mrs. Eracy Krassyck, who also suffers from Alzheimer’s. Since she broke her knee, she enjoys being able to do exercise while sitting down. “It is satisfying. I feel free and full of energy,” she said.

“The therapies began in Brazil in 1998, and nowadays, it has spread throughout the country, with more than 50,000 practitioners, most of them, older adults,” says capoeira master-capotherapy creator Gilvan Alves de Andrade. The alternative therapy has spread and developed in more than 400 Brazilian municipalities, per the instructor.

Master Gilvan Alves de Andrade (left) is the creator of capotherapy. (Courtesy Gilvan Alves de Andrade)

Alves de Andrade also pointed out that, since March 23, 2020, older people can practice capotherapy in the comfort of their homes through YouTube. Classes last 15 minutes, and elders can watch them at any time of the day.

There is also an option to attend classes via Google Meet. In Brasília, there are public classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, starting at 9:00 a.m.

In Brazil Federal Senate, there is a bill (PL165/2018) by Senator Hélio José (PROS/DF) that includes capotherapy as part of the Unified Health System’s (Sistema Único de Saúde, SUS) services. Since February, the proposal has awaited for a date to discuss in the Senate.

Among the benefits of capotherapy for older adults:

– Physical and mental balance

– Pain relief

– Social interaction

– Body flexibility

– Better motor coordination

– Less depression

(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez; edited by Melanie Slone and Fern Siegel)