Tools of the Trade: Ocean Drum


I am always looking for musical materials and methods that will capture the attention of my older adult clients with moderate to late stage dementia. Because of where they are in the disease process, these folks often have a harder time engaging in singing, sharing in discussion, and instrument playing. Some clients also have more severe physical impairments that make it harder to participate in music-making experiences, such as worsening muscle contractures, declining trunk control, and weakening motor skills. Enter the ocean drum.

The ocean drum is one instrument that I think every facility specializing in dementia care should own. Even people with severe motor impairment and very low cognitive functioning can play this instrument with some physical assistance. The reward is a pleasant tactile and visual experience, and a soothing white noise, which is an extra bonus for people who are living with greater levels of anxiety.

Here’s a short video demonstrating how to use the ocean drum and spelling out just why I think it’s so useful for people who have dementia:

You can buy an ocean drum like the one I showed in the video here, or you can buy one with a fish pattern that is visible underneath the beads here.

I definitely prefer the manufactured drums for use with older adults for their quality, durability and more adult feel, but if you are looking for a craft project or are working with children or an intergenerational group, you should check out this tutorial for making your own ocean drum from my fellow music therapist Meryl Brown. Even more ideas on how to use the ocean drum and why it works so well are also available from fellow music therapist Davida Price – just click here.

Have you played an ocean drum before? Why do you think it works so well with older adults? Please leave a comment below!

P.S. For a video on another great instrument for music-making with older adults, check out my previous Tools of the Trade post.

Updated March 2013: Are you an eldercare professional or music therapist? If so, look for posts like this one on Soundscaping Source – the NEW home for articles on caregiving through music.