Drumming for People with Alzheimer’s & Dementia

Group of people playing on drums - therapy by music

“The simple act of drumming can enable a non-verbal person with dementia to communicate–albeit temporarily—with loved ones.” For more information about the physical, mental and emotional benefits of drumming, read chapter 23 “Drumming” in “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia.” Book Reviews

Years ago, I attended a drumming circle with my husband Morris at the memory care home where he lived. The leader, John Crowder JD, trained directly with neurologist Barry Bittman, MD, and Christine Stevens, MSW, MT, BC, through the Health RhythmsTM program.

“You know, we all have a drum right here,” Crowder said, pointing to his heart. At least half of the members of the group understood exactly what he meant, as they shook their gourds to the rhythm of his drum.

But when Crowder handed out conga drums and other hand-held instruments, that’s when the fun really began. At the end of each rhythmic song, one patient would tell about his adventures in the military. And he didn’t miss a beat. More than once he broke into song, “Over hill, over dale, we would chase all kinds of tail.”

A woman talked about how her father and brother were drummers. Even though she insisted that she had never drummed, she apparently had learned by listening and watching because she was quite adept at following Crowder’s rhythms and creating rhythms for the rest of the group to follow. Throughout the forty- five minute session several people broke into song, which Crowder used to simultaneously lead the group in singing and playing. Several times he had the group mimic his rhythm. Overall, it was a calming, enjoyable experience for everyone.

Drumming for caregivers

Drumming is equally beneficial for caregivers. Dr. Bittman conducted landmark research published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 2001, which showed that group drumming therapy releases stress and increases the disease fighting activity of white blood cells.

Another study showed that long-term care workers experienced less burnout, stress, and mood disturbances when they participated in a six-week program of recreational music-making, de ned as distinct from “regular” music making, as its purpose is the enjoyment and well-being of the participants, not an artistic or aesthetic outcome that requires talent or training.

Drumming circles are a fun and healthy way to connect with your care partner. To find a drumming circle in your location, visit the website: USA Drum Circle Finder. Or buy a couple of drums and create your own drumming experience. Visit the Drum Circles net website for information on drums, DVDs, and other information to help you get started.

My new book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia” (Blue River Press) is now available wherever books are sold: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Boulder Book Store, Barnes & NobleTattered Cover Book StoreIndie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.