Standing in a room full of lined faces, Alan Yellowitz held up an orange drum shaped like a wineglass. “This one’s called a djembe,” he said. “It’s from Ghana.”
The 30 or so people watching him had, combined, amassed hundreds of years of living, although their recollection of those years was fading. Many stared off blankly, perhaps unable to remember what Ghana is. But one 85-year-old woman started tapping her hand on her thigh.
“Give it a try,” Yellowitz said, quickly placing a three-foot-high drum beside her and handing her a mallet.
Yellowitz and his business partner, Adam Mason, are the guys behind The Beat Goes On, a Fairfax County-based organization that brings drum circles — more commonly associated with college campuses and hippie gatherings — to seniors.
On a recent day, they unpacked about 60 percussion instruments in an activities room at Arden Courts Memory Care Community in Annandale, a residence for people with dementia — including many who have Alzheimer’s disease. The collection featured a “talking drum” from Senegal with strings on the sides that can be used to create a “wah-wah” effect, an “ocean drum” that sounded like crashing waves, and an array of wooden spoons, coconut shells and tambourines.
As they bantered with the residents, Yellowitz and Mason handed out drums and mallets and affixed lightweight drum heads to walkers. “We turn walkers into drum sets all the time,” Mason assured them, and soon everyone had something to beat on.
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Seniors with dementia express themselves, connect with others in drumming circle