skip to main content
caption:  "Music therapist Joe Kaufman says he's reaching people with Alzheimer's through individual classes and 'hallway concerts.'"
Enlarge Icon
"Music therapist Joe Kaufman says he's reaching people with Alzheimer's through individual classes and 'hallway concerts.'"
Credit: Photo courtesy of Aegis Living

The pandemic has upended routines for the elderly. This music therapist is getting creative

Joe Kaufman works with assisted living and 'memory care' residents in Seattle's Queen Anne neighborhood. Their normal routines have been upended: No more visitors or group activities.

He says it’s a difficult time, but also one for creativity.

Voices of the Pandemic features people in the Seattle area on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak in their own words.

My name is Joe Kaufman and I am the board-certified music therapist at ‘Aegis of Rodgers Park.'

I was originally inspired from going to my grandmother’s nursing home when I was a kid and visiting her and her friends, and playing piano and singing.

People light up, you know — they smile, they sit up in chairs, their feet are tapping in time. There are always these little social cues that show they are connecting to it in a deeper way. That inspired me to continue my studies of music therapy, and go into work with folks with Alzheimer’s.

We used to have a daily routine of activities. Now unfortunately, over the last three months, the activities — especially of course the group activities — have been cut from the programming. Now it’s primarily based on one-on-one visits, spending time with residents in their rooms.

And so seeing the decline has been tough and honestly, kind of even inevitable. But we’re doing everything that we can right now to make sure that people are as happy and as energetic as possible in a time like this.

Before this pandemic, I didn’t know every single resident that lived here— there are so many, there are over 100 — and with my daily routine of scheduling, I didn’t really get to connect on an intimate level with all of our residents. Now that’s completely changed. I know every single resident. I’ve heard about their life story, their career.

One gentleman shocked me at how amazing his voice was. I had no idea he was part of a choir throughout his youth, and just has a beautiful voice — able to harmonize.

There’s one woman who I’ve been working with who, right at start of this pandemic she picked up the ukulele. It had been sitting in her closet gathering dust for years. She’s certainly got more time on her hands now, so we’ve been learning songs.

Everyone is being tested right now — we’re all dealing with something we’ve never dealt with before. Nobody saw this coming. I certainly won’t take for granted having everyone together.

We began to implement hallway performances, which has been a huge hit. Basically, we’re having residents stand in their doorways, socially distanced at least six feet apart. But they’re at least able to see one another, sing with one another, engage with one another.

It was just a huge success, the joy, it was contagious. One of the residents even pulled me aside afterwards and she told me, ‘This was the best I have felt in three months."

If music can provide that sense of comfort, then we’re doing something really amazing here.