One of my subscribers Marilyn of Blonds Drum 2 asked me about her older adults group yesterday: “Since there are only about 20-25 in the group, we wonder if we need the amp. Do you use one for your guitar and singing? Headset or mic?” Perfect timing for this question because I’ve been writing this blog post for the past few days!

11 Reasons Why Drums Work with older adults has gotten more page views than almost any other post, so I thought I’d piggy back the idea with some practical tips.

Your *Must-Haves* Before Your Drum Circle with Older Adults

Most of these bullets points are meant for assisted living, skilled nursing, and memory care communities. Tips for providing music therapy or drumming for independent living communities are different. Before you even step *foot* inside the older adults community to provide music therapy or drum, make sure that you…

1. Find out the purpose of your session. Why are you there? Be absolutely clear with the program director that you understand the purpose of your session. Here are some possibilities: one-time celebration, life engagement & wellness, themed or seasonal event, provide sense of community, recreational activity. Music therapists may be there to reduce pain, decrease isolation, anxiety, and depression, co-treat with other therapists, address psychosocial needs, or more. If you’re getting paid, make sure there is a written agreement between you and the community that clarifies details.

2. Find out the demographics and size of the group. Is it a diverse group? How many participants will there be? Are they all older or are some residents in their 20s, 30s, 40s? Do the residents speak English, Spanish, other? There is a Finnish resident in one of my facilities. She usually sits comfortably with her eyes closed and minimal response. But she comes to life, sings, opens her eyes, and smiles every time we all sing Sibelius’s Finnish National Anthem. Find out about your residents so you can make deep, personal connections.

3. Learn everyone’s names. If the group is too large to do so in the first session, bring name badges to write out and stick on! No matter the circumstance, hearing your name sung or drummed to you is such a meaningful and special experience. This is an easy, instant acknowledgement and rapport-builder.

4. Ask for armless chairs for ambulatory residents. This makes it easier to do movement with music and play instruments.

5. Recruit help from caregivers or staff. Don’t be too shy to give your small percussions to the aide in the room for passing out to the residents. Besides, you need to make sure you follow all 8 Tips for Self Care While Serving a Client, so utilize all extra helping hands that are available.

6. Clearly express the all-inclusive nature of your session. On rare occasions in the past, I’ve had to be assertive in gently wrapping bells around wrists or using the velcro adaptive mallet against the wishes of the caregiver. Depending upon the background and training of the caregiver, he/she may say “No, she can’t really do that.” But when he/she sees the resident make music, or when you demonstrate hand over hand assistance, there is almost always understanding.

7. Request that the residents sit in a circle. During most “performances,” the residents probably sit audience style, but you are offering something different. You are building the community from within. You are providing an opportunity for the residents to bond and feel a sense of togetherness within the facility. Make sure everyone can see each other in your group. Don’t settle for audience-style seating. Take a stand and make sure everyone is in a circle.

8. Request that the group be set up and ready to go as soon as you arrive. This way, your time and their time is maximized. You’re not getting paid to rearrange residents. You’re getting paid to make some music and/or provide music therapy.

9. Use a mic only if absolutely necessary. I do not recommend using an amp or mic for the first session. For me, lugging around the extra equipment has not proven to be useful with older adult groups less than 30. You can decide after the first session whether or not you’ll need to bring a mic. But if the acoustics are absolutely poor or there are >30 participants, use a portable PA system with lapel mic. This way, you can strap on the mic while walking around making personal connections.

10. Consider morning sessions instead of afternoon. I have found that for assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, residents are more alert in the mornings. I make several exceptions, but only at independent living communities *and* nursing facilities where I trust the caregivers to help me stimulate the residents during the session.

11. If you are a music therapist, provide assessment and documentation. Allow ample time and charge for each. Here is a spreadsheet I use to calculate net revenue per session, accounting for gas mileage, travel time, session time, and tax estimate.

12. Learn about more opportunities in the community. Find out if while you’re there, you can provide a session on the opposite side of the campus or in a different level of care. The four primary types of older adult communities are: Independent Living, Assisted Living, Skilled Nursing, and Memory Care. Many communities offer all four levels.

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