Drumming to the rhythms of life.

Friedman, Dorian, U.S. News & World Report; 06/09/97, Vol. 122 Issue 22, p17, 1/2p, 1c

Abstract: Considers how drumming is becoming an important therapeutic tool in the United States. Drumming as a scared ritual in many societies; The benefits of drumming and other forms of music therapy in helping Alzheimer's patients stay focused; The reduction of stress with drumming exercises; Speculation as to how music affects the brain in Alzheimer's patients.


Since our ancestors first struck sticks and rocks against the ground, drumming has been a sacred ritual in many societies. It is a big part of various New Age movements. And in corporate America, musical management consultants are leading drum workshops to build team spirit. (Apple, Motorola, and AT&T have reportedly tried it.)

Drumming is becoming an important therapeutic tool. In nursing homes, "drum circles" and other forms of music therapy help Alzheimer's patients focus, if only temporarily. Drumming exercises greatly reduce stress among Vietnam veterans and other victims of trauma, apparently by altering their brain-wave patterns. And listening to music with rhythmic cues improves motor coordination in stroke patients and in those with Parkinson's disease, helping them walk up to 50 percent faster. "Everything we do in life comes down to rhythm," says counselor Bob Bloom. "If something is off, we can reintroduce a correct rhythm to realign our physical and emotional state."

On a recent morning at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington, D.C., a dozen elderly residents with dementia gathered for their weekly rhythm circle. Therapist Kathy Mollard had each member bang out numbers and shake maracas to the tune of Yankee Doodle. Some who seemed otherwise confused could nonetheless tap perfectly on cue. Alzheimer's researchers report similar results: patients unable to speak who can sing childhood melodies; those barely able to walk who can dance a waltz. As yet, neuroscience has no sure explanation, but some experts think the brain's receptors for music and rhythm are spared the early ravages of senility. And while no amount of drumming can cure the disease, music therapist Barry Bernstein notes, "It can improve the quality of life and offer another way for family members to communicate with their loved one."