Ritual drumming is deeply rooted in the Japanese culture, which has been presented to the West in worldwide tours by the famous Kodo Drummers. Now, researchers in Japan are studying the affects of drumming on dementia, which they believe can impede cognitive decline.
Dr. Miyazaki Atsuko has conducted a controlled experiment in which patients with moderate to advanced dementia joined groups that participated in supervised drumming for 30 minutes, three times a week, for three months. Afterward, members of this group scored more than two points higher on a standard cognitive test when compared to a control group that did not participate in drumming.
In addition to cognitive improvement, the participants showed improved physical dexterity, and many experienced weight loss. Clearly, drumming reduced their symptoms of dementia. To see a video about Dr. Miyazaki’s experiment, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FX87ay94NFE.
This does not surprise me. We have known for years that music can have beneficial affects on individuals living with dementia, and rhythm is the foundation of music. To see an impressive demonstration of this fact, I urge you to watch the movie “Alive Inside,” a documentary that features a man with advanced dementia named Henry.
Henry is unresponsive, very nearly comatose, and cannot answer a simple question or create a simple sentence. Headphones playing his favorite kind of music are placed on his head, and the response is immediate. Henry raises his head, opens his eyes, begins to move rhythmically, and begins to sing.
After a few minutes of listening to music, Henry is articulate and can carry on a conversation. He talks about his love of music and performs a hilariously accurate impersonation of one of his favorites, Cab Calloway. Henry reminisces about attending dances as a young man, and explains, “Music is love.” To see a video about Henry’s remarkable transformation, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HLEr-zP3fc.
Unfortunately, the change will not last and Henry will lapse back into his state of silence, isolation, and inaction. But for a period of time, the affects of music are simply stunning. The research I reviewed about the drumming experiment in Japan did not present any data that would suggest that there was a residual or long-term benefit, and I suspect there is not.
We must remind ourselves that dementia is caused by a physical and progressive degradation of the brain. Brain tissue is dying, and no therapy has yet been found to actually impede this process or restore brain function in the long term.
But this does not mean that music and rhythm therapies are useless. To the contrary, they are quite effective, inexpensive, and they have none of the side effects, cost, or hazards of pharmacological therapies. We must remind ourselves that at this stage of our scientific knowledge, and in the absence of a “cure,” the greatest gift we can give our loved ones living with dementia is an improved quality of life, even if it is only temporary. Music and even pure rhythm without tonal qualities provide this.
Let us use and celebrate these simple therapies and remember that we all deserve the best.
Until next time remember: “We all deserve the Best”
Send your comments and stories to [email protected]