11 Reasons Why Drums Work: Activities for the Elderly

drum-02Singing, moving, dancing, song-writing, relaxing, caring for self, improvising, and playing an assortment of instruments are essential to a quality music therapy & wellness program for older adults. Music therapists use music as the medium for providing cognitive stimulation, gross/fine motor movement, socialization, agitation reduction, memory validation, reminiscence, and more… but here are a few practical reasons that drums stand out as a successful experience~

1. The drum speaks loudly. When the voice is weak, the drum is strong. When you hit a drum lightly, the drum responds with great resonance and volume. Older adults who may be hard-of-hearing may not be able to hear shakers, but drums are more audible.

2. The drum is easy to play. Frame drums, paddle drums, and shape drums are easy to hold with two hands in the lap. There are plenty of adaptive instruments to compensate for arthritis and other physical ailments. I use mallet cuffs at least twice per week in my groups. They allow drum playing when grasp is weak. Also, instrument mounts act as a drum stand for individuals who are wheelchair-bound.

3. The drum is versatile. Drums can be used in rehabilitation in several NMT (neurologic music therapy) techniques and/or regular exercise. Up high, down low, kick the drum, reach for the drum, reach for your neighbor’s drum. You can even surround an individual with hand drums to simulate a drum set. Then, design a drumming pattern that works on strengthening the trunk while the client reaches left, right, front, back, up, down, etc.

4. The drum is expressive. You can use drums in place of conversations. Oftentimes what better serves individuals in a drum circle is play without words. The drum can act as an emotional anchor with no words required.

5. The drum is the foundation of music. Consider the simplest elements of music: melody, harmony, and rhythm. Rhythm is the glue that sticks it all together.

6. The drum is cross-cultural. I recently provided a drum circle for the IRC: 35 refugees that spoke 7 different languages. Did anyone need to understand English in order to drum together successfully? No. Rhythm works. AND we all took turns singing in different languages, listening, and learning.

7. The drum is clearer and more definitive than small percussions. Many of the older adults with whom I work complain that the shakers aren’t loud enough. Then I give that individual a drum, and he/she is totally satisfied!

8. The research supports drumming with older adults to promote optimal health and wellness.

9. The drum is portable! Check out my post Schlepping Made Easy. Thanks to Remo, there are lots of portable drums out there. My favorite are the paddle drums.

10. The drum is peaceful. The drum can simulate a soft, relaxing, predictable, familiar heart beat. In addition, the drum can serve as gentle vibrational stimulation. We often do drum massages in wellness sessions. Face the drum mouth towards the core of your body, strike the drum, and notice the vibrational sensations that occur. With the right drum, timbre, and frequencies, this sensation can be very relaxing.

11. The drum is fun. When a comment like this is heard over and over, it must be a good sign: “Playing the drum makes me feel like a kid again!”

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9 Responses to 11 Reasons Why Drums Work: Activities for the Elderly

  1. Claude Chan August 11, 2010 at 4:14 pm #

    Reason No. 12
    The drum verifies assurance that we are still very much a part of society. We interact with each other by communicating, interpreting, and laughing with one another. I must add that it adds life to years and years to life.

    • Kat Fulton August 11, 2010 at 4:25 pm #

      Beautifully put, Claude. Thanks for your comment~ and now there’s 12 Reasons!

  2. Tracy Flanders April 12, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    There is nothing like the memory I have of playing Battle Hymn of the Republic on paddle drums with dementia patients at one of my former facilities. So much engagement, smiles and laughter!
    thanks for the reminder.

    • Kat Fulton April 12, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

      Sweet memories! Thanks for sharing this with us, Tracy =)

    • Robin Ward July 29, 2015 at 7:21 pm #

      Tracy Flanders- I think I know you from a past life….Robin Ward Gentile

  3. Holly Hankin November 24, 2014 at 11:05 am #

    Thanks so much for the insight! I will definitely check out “Schlepping Made Easy.”

  4. omri lapidot December 19, 2015 at 1:49 pm #

    I agree with every word, drumming makes magic 🙂 espetially with the elderly, it brings them back to life.. Right on!

  5. Katie Just July 6, 2016 at 7:25 am #

    Do you have any specific activity suggestions for drumming with the elderly? I have a few interventions I have used in past but am looking to do a session with entirely drumming and not just as an alternative intervention.

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