November 5, 2012

Drumming for Parkinson's

I don’t know anything about drums. A small exception: my housemate Nimesh often plays his Nepali drum, and – if his wife Bhawana and I are lucky – he’ll add a vocal accompaniment. It’s fun having live music in the house. 

Then earlier this week I got an email from Jessica Burns, an intern at a music management company in California. Among other duties, Jessica helps promote Shauney "ShauneyBaby" Recke, a drummer who tours with different musicians, including Sting and the Pussycat Dolls (Sting I've heard of; I know nothing about the Pussycat Dolls, but it's a great name).

Shauney did something else -- the reason Jessica reached out to me in the first place -- that got my attention. Two years ago, Shauney founded “Drum for Goodness Sake,” an organization that promotes drumming – with its various therapeutic attributes – as a means to help people dealing with cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and stress-related disorders.

I’d read that many different forms of physical exercise were beneficial for patients with some of those conditions. I’ve written on this blog how some of them -- including tai chi, dance, and singing -- have helped people, like me, with Parkinson’s. Drumming? That was a new one to me, but I get it.

A quick Google search on “drumming” and “Parkinson’s” yielded lots of results. A forum at included an article titled "Drum Therapy Program Helping Parkinson's Patients." Based at a cardio-pulmonary rehab center in Washington state, the drum program there is apparently making a difference for its patients with Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases.

Music therapist Bill Dluhosh started the program in 2010. He begins each session with a simple drum beat for everyone to duplicate… patients and caregivers. Dluhosh offered a simple explanation for the success of the therapy: "Playing music actually increases serotonin and dopamine production in the brain, which through Parkinson's decreases with the progression of the disease."

Some participants have found that their Parkinson’s-related shaking is reduced after drumming. One man with PD had started singing along to the radio more often, after attending several drum therapy sessions.

In her email to me, Jessica highlighted several benefits that Shauney’s drumming clients have experienced:
  • Tones muscles 
  • Decreases anxiety and depression 
  • Increases energy 
  • Stimulates the brain 
  • Reduces fatigue 
If you live in Los Angeles and would like more information about Shauney’s “Drum for Goodness Sake,” please check here. And everywhere, if you’d like to find out if drumming therapy is available in your area, check with senior centers, local Y, and community centers. The Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s associations might also provide helpful information.

Exercising indoors – the best place for seniors during cold, inclement winters -- requires a discipline I often find lacking. Maybe Nimesh will give me drum instruction, so I get the exercise – and the mental stimulation – I need.

But given my complete lack of musical talent, I suspect the closest I'll get to anything like this is the marching I do when I put on my CD of Sousa's marches.

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