28th Oct 2014

Drum Therapy Helps Dementia Patients Maintain Basic Mental Functions

Drumming stimulates and challenges the brains of dementia

patients at Phoebe Allentown Health Care. Photo by

April Bartholomew, The Morning Call.

Drumming continuously proves to be an effective form of music therapy. Most recently, drumming is used to challenge the brains of dementia patients at Phoebe Allentown Health Care. Elderly suffering from dementia experience a loss of intellectual and social functions, such as memory, language, and judgment. However, Phoebe has recently introduced its dementia patients to drum therapy to help them keep and strengthen what’s left of these functions.

At drum therapy sessions, staff members trained in therapeutic drumming give each patient a small drum and mallet and ask them to repeat simple rhythms, recite rhymes, and drum along to songs. Drums are also used to encourage language skills by using beats to represent names, dates, or colors. Eileen Mihocko, one of the staff members trained in therapeutic drumming, even uses drum beats to introduce group members to one another. Each syllable of the phrase, “My name is ___,” is a beat on the drum.

So how exactly does drumming help dementia patients? According to Kelly O’Shea Carney, executive director of the Phoebe Center for Excellence in Dementia Care, drumming stimulates and challenges the brain. While drumming mostly maintains what’s left of the brain connections needed for basic mental functions, some dementia patients have been able to rebuild lost connections, as Carney told The Morning Call. Carney also explains that drumming allows dementia patients to communicate and provides stress relief and relaxation.

Drumming is certainly not a cure for dementia and cannot reverse the disease. However, by stimulating and challenging the brain, drumming can slow down dementia’s rate of deterioration and help dementia patients maintain and use the skills they have left for as long as possible.