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Physical, occupational, and speech therapy at the beat of a drum

Therapy Thumpers from Granite Mesa Health Center

The Therapy Thumpers, a drumming group from Granite Mesa Health Center in Marble Falls, performed during a Halloween party at the Marble Falls Senior Activity Center. Leading the group was physical therapist Lori Anderson (green wig). Thumper Sue Taylor (purple wig on right) says she’s been drumming since the group began in March. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

The Therapy Thumpers emerged from their white Granite Mesa Health Center bus dressed in bright neon wigs, their signature band T-shirts, fake tattoo arm sleeves, and Christmas hats. They grabbed either a walker or a wheelchair and headed into the Marble Falls Senior Activity Center, where they were the lunchtime entertainment at a Halloween party Oct. 29. The mashup costumes were all part of the fun. 

“They have been working for weeks on their Christmas songs, then the senior center wanted us to come over for Halloween,” said Lori Anderson, a physical therapist at Granite Mesa. “We didn’t have any Halloween songs, so we decided to dress like Halloween and mix in a little Christmas.”

The Therapy Thumpers are residents of Granite Mesa Health Center, 1401 Max Copeland Drive in Marble Falls, who have taken up percussion instruments to form a drum circle. The group of about 12 women sit in a circle, each with a colorful physical therapy ball perched on top of a white plastic paint can. They wear identical aprons over Therapy Thumpers T-shirts and clasp wooden drumsticks in their hands, poised over the balls, ready to rock.

The physical therapists from Granite Mesa act as roadies and backup drummers. The Thumpers themselves come up with their own choreography. 

The result is entertaining, fun, and physically and mentally invigorating for the Thumpers. 

“It helps us let out our frustrations,” said 85-year-old Amy Duncan. “Just watch me drum.” 

They drum to the beat of recorded songs played on a small smart speaker. They alternate between drumming on the fronts, tops, and sides of the balls, and even on the buckets, all in sync with the music and each other. At “sticks in the air,” they click them together over their heads and then move from left to right and back. The sound brings visions of reindeer stomping on the rooftop. 

It’s good exercise and fun, said member Sue Taylor, 72.

“I’m involved because I like to have some kind of activity, and when they said we could drum, I started right away,” she said. “I’ve been there from the beginning.”

The beginning was March of this year when Anderson, the physical therapist, got together with the occupational and speech therapists at the center to set up the drumming class. She got the idea from a similar exercise class at Hill Country Nutrition in Marble Falls

“We were isolated for so long because of COVID that when they said we could have small groups again, we did it,” Anderson said. “We could only have 10 people in a room so we could be six feet apart. We had three therapists who had to be there, so we started small.”

They divided the residents into three skill levels. The drummers have advanced so much that the lower level no longer exists. 

“We had success right away because they could follow the rhythms,” Anderson said. “What’s really neat about it is that nobody is ever wrong, whether you go slow or fast, it’s right. It’s empowering.” 

The Therapy Thumpers put on a good show with their neon wigs and brightly colored balls, which, for one number, they pick up and hold over their heads to pump in the air as the speaker blasts “Y’all ready for this?” 

“They went from coming up with their own simple rhythms to choreographing routines,” Anderson continued. “That’s huge. I never thought we’d be performing.”

Gigs came along after the group performed for the marketing director. Right away, she saw potential and called up the Marble Falls Senior Activity Center. They were a hit at their first performance in early October and were back by popular demand for the Halloween party. The number of participants has grown as has the call for more groups at Granite Mesa.

“We started a lot of other groups because of this, because they like it so much,” Anderson said. “Now, we do crafting, knitting, cooking. We wanted to slow this one down, but they love it so much, we can’t.”