The (Drum Circle) Beat Goes On at Vista del Monte

Musical Groups Set Rhythm for Residents of This Retirement Community in Hidden Valley

The (Drum Circle) Beat Goes On at Vista del Monte

Musical Groups Set Rhythm for Residents of This Retirement Community in Hidden Valley

By Leslie Dinaberg

The drum circle group at the Vista Del Monte retirement community. | Credit: Erick Madrid

‘Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.’


‘Rhythm is the soul of life. The whole universe revolves in rhythm. Everything and every human action revolves in rhythm.’

—Babatunde Olatunji  

People of all ages benefit from music therapy, with especially positive changes for people with autism; visual, motor, emotional, hearing or cognitive disabilities; or high stress levels. With these benefits in mind, the residents and staff at Summer House — which is the memory-care unit at Vista del Monte retirement care community ( — regularly participate in drum circles.

“The sound waves and the sound of the drums and the feel of the drums are very powerful for those who have cognitive issues,” said Helene Hellstern, the life enrichment director for Vista del Monte, where residents gather in a common area called The Alcove every Tuesday and Thursday. “When we tell people we are doing a drum circle, they are very willing to come to that activity, and we typically have at least a dozen people if not more.” 

First are exercises to warm up their hands and get energized. Then Hellstern uses a 70-inch computer screen to broadcast images of nature or from a particular country or culture that’s especially stimulating. “Then we start the drumming,” she said, explaining that groups are typically led by Karen Rojas. “We’ll just do different rhythms and we’ll have the residents repeat those. And we always incorporate having the residents do their own little rhythm, and so it’s just one person doing their rhythm and we all repeat it.”

Vista del Monte’s drum circle keeps residents engaged and active. | Credit: Erick Madrid

The music, the exposure to community, and the physical activity are all beneficial. “A lot of our residents have mobility issues or are non-ambulatory, so we tend to just use hand movements — although if people want to tap their feet, that’s definitely encouraged,” said Hellstern. “The movement of the arms or the drumming itself is a really good movement. It energizes the whole body and the sound waves, because the drum is on their body, they really feel it as well as hear it.”

And there’s science as to how this helps people with memory issues. “They have determined that music in particular sets off most areas of the brain,” she said. “And not just drumming, but other music often triggers their long-term memory.”

The drums have become a therapy tool beyond the circles as well. “Sometimes, we will just get the drums out if whatever we have planned isn’t quite working — everyone responds really well to that,” she said. “A truly holistic healing approach, group drumming breaks down social barriers, promotes freedom of expression, nonverbal communication, unity, and cooperation.”



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