Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hit List! 5 Ways to Successful Drumming with Older Adults.

Drumming activities can be very effective with a variety of populations, including older adults. Many older adults who have been placed in care facilities have symptoms of dementia or may even be diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. Although this client population typically presents with lower motor skill coordination and less spontaneous social interaction, this should not discourage you from doing drumming activities! Here are five things to keep in mind when working with older adults in group settings. These ideas will assist you in successfully leading a drumming activity:

1. Use the power of Entrainment! This means that objects in motion or rhythms and beats tend to coalesce or converge when given the opportunity. Imagine a large group of people all start drumming a simple beat at the same time. At first, the sound will just be random drumming without a sense of rhythm or underlying pulse. The beat will eventually emerge and the group will naturally begin playing together on a unified pulse. This phenomenon holds true for any group of people, including some people with disabilities. I have witnessed entrainment many times in groups of older adults. In order to facilitate entrainment, try to provide a steady beat or pulse on a drum with a low sound. Entrainment also takes time. Don't feel bad about allowing what may sound like rambling drumming to continue until entrainment starts to occur.

2. Reminiscing. This is an important tool for working with older adults because it helps to improve their quality of life. Remembering and talking about favorite places and things promotes positive emotional responses and improves interactions with staff and family. Groups of older adults will probably have varying ability to remember things about their life, but props, pictures and songs can be helpful in encouraging participation. I like to use word rhythm drumming about favorite places, hometowns, foods, etc. Word rhythm drumming is simply breaking down words into their syllables and playing the syllable parts with the same emphasis and cadence you use while speaking the word. Different words can be used with different types of drums, shakers or bell sounds to create unique and fun drum activities.

3. Themes. Theme-based activities compliment the use of reminiscing. The easiest way to employ themes is to talk about current events and holidays. Many of these events have songs that are already well established, so the chances are greater that many of the clients will know the songs. Christmas, the Fourth of July and Baseball are all good examples of events to build themes around. Other themes can be found through investigating songs and events from the clients' early adult years. The ages of 18-30 have been found to be the most significant for developing taste and preferences for music. This age span is also sufficiently young enough that clients with Alzheimer's will be more likely to remember things from that time. Songs like, Alexander's Ragtime Band, My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, BINGO, and Deep in the Heart of Texas have been big hits with some of my groups! All of these songs have natural places to add in instrument and drum playing.

4. Dancing, moving, sharing. One of the most important ways to increase success with older adults is to get them moving! Kinesthetic involvement with the music is a key to unlocking old memories. Moving to music also increases entrainment and meets goals and objectives set by medical staff to practice motor skills. Exercise routines, stretching, and relaxing can all be facilitated with drums and instruments. Try using an ocean drum to facilitate moving a parachute up and down. Another great idea is to end the group with very soft rhythmic drumming facilitated with ambient sounds of the ocean drum or rainstick and soft music while doing deep breathing and relaxation to simple imagery. Ocean drums, paddle drums and gathering drums are great instruments to encourage sharing. Older adults in facilities tend to keep to themselves and can benefit from strategic settings that promote social interaction.

5. Look for Rhythm Allies. This is term coined by Arthur Hull, Christine Stevens and the other founders of drum circle facilitation. Rhythm Allies are your special helpers that you have instructed before the activity to help maintain the beat, work with specific clients or play special instruments at appropriate times. Rhythm allies are usually staff or family members, but I have also received help from capable clients when possible. Rhythm allies are more important with groups of clients who have more severe dementia or physical disabilities.

In addition to the previous considerations, I suggest a 30 minute music session as an optimal time to maintain focus of attention. It is also important to be aware of clients prone to agitation or who have pain that prevents certain movements.

Good luck and please let me know how it goes!

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