Donna McCario, life enrichment director at Sherwood Park Nursing & Care Center, helps instruct Jolane Loughton, right, at a Senior Rhythms event taught by Mark Parker, center, and brother Brian. (KEIZERTIMES/Brian Rennick)

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

A local nursing home is experimenting with how a simple drumbeat can lift spirits of seniors.

Sherwood Park Nursing and Care Center invited a group called Senior Rhythms to come lead a drum circle of sorts with its patients. They also invited activity directors from other senior facilities to come take a look at the program for themselves.

It’s how brothers Brian and Mark Parker are using their talents and training – both are musicians, and Brian is also a licensed practical nurse – to stimulate senior citizens in facilities that, by their very nature, can invoke feelings of isolation.

“(Operators) try really hard to be friendly and get people to engage,” said Brian Parker. “This is a way to do it where (residents) get to, instead of just listening to something, actually engage in it.”

While many of the Sherwood Park residents are struggling with physical disabilities, he said the program shows the most potential with patients suffering from memory loss, particularly from Alzheimer’s disease. Basic rhythm is something that registers in any human brain, Parker said.

“The research is showing that incorporating music actually allows them to create new memories, which is kind of a unique concept with Alzheimer’s,” Parker said. “When you process music it’s a very complex thing – it uses a lot of different facets of the brain. The new memories basically tag along with the music and find new pathways in the brain, allowing them to form new memories.”

Often the mind continues to function, but the ability to communicate can go first, Parker said.

“So what happens over time is they tend to withdraw, not to communicate, so not only do they lose their short-term memory, but even things they can remember, they can no longer express,” he added.

Donna McCario, life enrichment director at Sherwood Park, learned of the program at an Oregon Healthcare Association convention. Purchasing the drums is a bit cost prohibitive, but she said the reaction from her patients was obvious.

“Even the people who can only use one hand, they could get a mallet and beat that drum,” McCario said. “One lady who is paralyzed wanted to put the tambourine under her neck – and she did it. I didn’t think she’d be into it at all, but she loved being a part of it.”

Another patient said her name. It seems like a small victory, but not when this particular woman hardly utters a peep, McCario said.

She said that it provides an outlet for residents regardless of the health reasons that put them there.

“It kind of takes your mind off things, plus the longer the pain level is decreased there’s less medication, which is always a good thing,” McCario said. “And it’s something everybody can succeed at – there’s no right way or wrong way to do it.”

“It’s all about what they sort of call being in the moment, giving them that little moment of joy,” Parker said. “With memory care there is no fix, there are no cures, they’re going to deteriorate and eventually die from the disease. But they can once again engage with people.”

Family members often become frustrated when visiting loved ones who don’t remember who they are. Parker said relatives can come visit during the drum sessions and see their faces light up again.

“When we come back, the residents actually remember us,” Parker added. “They don’t remember their family members, they don’t know what they had for lunch yesterday, or if they even had lunch. But they remember us.

“What it really is is as simple as clapping your hand or tapping your feet,” Parker said. “There’s actually a biological response down to the DNA level. And it’s a uniquely human thing.”