The Rhythm of Drumming for Persons Living with Dementia

Vicky Pitner   -  

Rhythm is a powerful tool to globally stimulate the brain. Vision and speech are in two different areas of the brain, but feeling rhythm and listening to music uses the whole brain, reaching different pathways. For people in general and especially those living with dementia, people who play a musical instrument regularly have healthier immune systems and are better able to fight off colds, flues, and viruses.

Drumming is a perfect instrument to integrate into the daily schedule of your loved one living with dementia. There is no experience necessary to play drum as it would be for a piano, guitar, or violin, and small (bongos, Djembe) or stand-up drums (bongos or larger Djembes.) Other types of drums to consider are tom-tom drums, drum pads with drum sticks or mallets (can use headphones and not disturb the household), snare drums, or frame and hand drums.

Percussion instruments are also great and easy to play and can be packed away when you travel to have them on hand for a stress reducer. Maraca’s, shakers, and small Cajon drums are perfect to bring to family events and share the joy of music-making. The tongue drum and ocean drum are other easy-to-play instruments that will bring a sense of calmness and mindfulness, and reduce anxiety.

Don’t have a drum? Try implementing rhythm activities through drumming:

  • Table taps. After lunch, start a rhythm and have your loved one join in. Sing a song to the rhythm or play a familiar song and tap it out.
  • Use pencils as drumsticks and bring out the pots and pans (turning upside down of course!).
  • Variations can include a “call and response” activity. You play a rhythm and your loved one repeats. Take turns “calling and responding.”
  • Take turns playing solos.

Don’t be afraid to be creative. Drumming can give a sense of personal power and can bring the person into the present and can be very grounding. For individuals who have difficulty expressing feelings verbally, drumming encourages opportunities to release emotions and experience a means of self-expression. The benefits of music-making with drums may just be the key to communicating with those who no longer feel they have a voice.

For support in practical caregiving strategies or information on our Memory Ministry, or Memory Café, please contact Vicky at