Paradise View does not actually have a view, but the long-term care residence in Upper Manhattan does have a drum circle.
The genesis of the drum circle was about three months ago, when Community Coordinator Paul Padial and Cantor Daniel Pincus were playing drums in Paradise View's dining room, and they attracted the attention of residents. "Everybody started coming out to see what all the noise was, and it turned into a dance floor," Mr. Padial said. "We just looked at each other and said, 'This is the coolest thing.'"
Mr. Pincus, who is a member of the religious life department at Manhattan Jewish Home Lifecare, the nursing home of which Paradise View is a unit, and Mr. Padial organize a drum circle for residents. Meeting for an hour every Thursday, it is a success, said staff and residents alike.
The drum circle is part of Jewish Home Lifecare's bid to change what was a conventional nursing home into a real home for the residents, replete with plenty of activities and choices about when to wake up and what to eat. The benefits of the drum circle are more than just musical: Mr. Pardial said it builds community and provides health benefits. "Part of my job is to build community, and drum circles actually mimic a community," he said. "In a drum circle every person has a voice. No one person is more important than the other."
The elderly patients who participate can't seem to get enough of making music. The drum circle last week attracted some 30 residents ages 65 to 102. They sat waiting for drums or other percussion instruments to be handed to them.
"I love it," the oldest member of the group, Laure Gaeckle, who turns 103 in February, said. "They started it up, I joined, and I've been drumming ever since."
Ms. Gaeckle spends much of her time in bed, and never played the drums before joining the circle. Suffering from poor eyesight and having difficulty with mobility, drumming provides a welcome diversion.
"I wish it would go on for another hour," she said. "I don't know if I'll be around to play at 103."
At 85, Ernestine Johnston looks like a trendy Manhattanite, with sunglasses, gold earrings, and a pearl bracelet. While she is not a member of Paradise View, she has been welcomed to the circle.
"We just found out about it and we started coming down. It's new to me so it's fun," Ms. Johnston said, while shaking and dancing even while seated during the musical performance.
"It's very energetic. It really does send blood through the veins," she said.
Staffers at Paradise View said they are seeing higher energy levels and a boost in morale since drumming became part of the routine. Music therapists have long used music to connect to people, and especially the elderly.
"Music is so evocative," the director of graduate music therapy at Long Island-based Molloy College, Dr. Suzanne Sorel, said. "Music can kind of supersede all the emotional difficulty and bring you to an emotional place."
Reaching such a place can be coupled with physical healing, according to some music therapists.
"One thing that drumming can do is access an individual's long- and short-term memory, and decrease agitation," the director of professional programs at the American Music Therapy Association, Jane Creagan, said. "Music is sort of a back door that can be used to access parts of the brain that other therapies can't access."
Unlike speech, music is processed in multiple areas of the brain. The limbic system is activated by the emotional response to music, while the elements of music, such as rhythm, pitch, and melody, activate other areas of the brain. Elderly people suffering from the late stages of dementia often show responses to music, including vocal activity, increased eye contact, changes in facial expression, and physical movement.
The residents at Paradise View are high-functioning and suffer less from dementia than the residents in other parts of the Jewish Home Lifecare system. The medical director at the nursing home, Richard Neufeld, said the drum circle could be used with residents who are suffering from dementia.
"There is no reason why this drum circle can't be used in other units with higher dementia," Mr. Neufeld said. "I'm not sure in a demented unit how many would participate, but we should try it out."
He also said that medical research on the health effects of Paradise View's drum circle have not been tested, but it could "reduce agitation, reduce blood pressure."
Mr. Padial said that perhaps more importantly, drumming seems to alleviate chronic pain. "One resident said that, 'For one hour, I have no pain,'" Mr. Padial said. "It takes them away from worrying about their ailments."