Enriching Lives Via Melodies

Hannah Joseph⁠—Weinberg Community Music Therapist


Hannah Joseph, MT-BC, Music Therapist at Weinberg Community


By Nicole Bruce

Studies have shown that music therapy can increase stimulation and socialization, enhance short- and long-term memory recall, and improve mood by decreasing anxiety, depression, stress and agitation in older adults, particularly those living with dementia.

As Weinberg Community’s Adult Day Services Coordinator and Music Therapist, Hannah Joseph leads music therapy sessions for older adults in individual and group settings—through guitar, piano, percussion, and voice—at The Friend Center for Memory Care and Adult Day Services in Deerfield.

In light of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month in November, we’ve asked her to share with LIFE readers the benefits of music therapy and how she helps individuals living with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders—and their family caregivers—through music therapy programming.

LIFE: What is music therapy and what are its benefits for older adults, particularly those with cognitive disorders?

Joseph: Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music to help people by accomplishing individualized goals. For older adults, music therapy can help improve their overall well-being and quality of life. This form of therapy can also help with memory and other cognitive issues: one can pair information with familiar and improvised music, and then use that connection as a springboard to recall memories and have meaningful discussions. Music therapy can also use rhythm as a cue for movement, song-writing for emotional expression, and much more!

Hannah Joseph Music Therapist with Weinberg Community

LIFE: Is a background in music necessary for someone to participate in or benefit from music therapy?

Joseph: No, not at all! As music therapists, it’s our role to tailor and shape each session to the needs and abilities of our clients. Music therapy isn’t about utilizing or measuring musical talents—it’s geared toward encouraging and stimulating non-musical accomplishments, like emotional expression and positive engagement. Music therapy is using music to meet non-musical goals—we’re not looking for the next Pavarotti; we’re looking to help people feel more deeply, expand their communication of those feelings and enjoy being enriched through music.

LIFE: What are your social, emotional and cognitive goals for working with someone with dementia?

Joseph: The great thing about music therapy is that the goals are completely individualized when working with clients. For example, socially-focused goals for participants may include positive stimulation, sense of community, and socialization through large and small music groups. Emotionally-focused goals may include decreased anxiety and depression and increased mood and affect through making music with peers. Cognitively-focused goals may include enhancing and maintaining short- and long-term memory recall, cognitive stimulation and maintaining complex thinking through music-based discussion groups.

LIFE: How can music therapy help those living with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive disorders?

Joseph: Music therapy can give people living with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders an opportunity to engage and to be stimulated cognitively, emotionally and physically. Music therapy helps individuals connect with friends and family and maintain a sense of identity. It can also help create new pathways in the brain to access memories and information by using music to stimulate memory, speech, and conversation.

Hannah Joseph Working with Weinberg Residents

LIFE: What types of therapeutic programming do you typically engage in, and how do these programs promote memory and a sense of self in older adults with dementia?

Joseph: This goes back to the idea that all programming is created based on the individual’s or the group’s needs. Music therapy programs can include:

  • Music-making and improvisation groups to encourage emotional expression, stimulation, and positive social interactions;
  • Drum circles for rhythmic auditory stimulation to increase gross and fine motor control and strength;
  • Music trivia and discussion to facilitate long- and short-term memory recall;
  • Songwriting and lyric analysis to increase expression, sense of community and group cohesiveness.

These music therapy programs—and others—promote memory and a sense of self for older adults with dementia because they provide an opportunity for independence, decision-making, disclosure, making connections with community members and normalcy.

LIFE: Do you use Holiday and Jewish music to connect with persons with dementia?

Joseph: Yes! When there is a holiday to celebrate we explore its music, because familiar music from celebrations in the past are ways that have been shown to be effective in reaching persons with memory issues. Reminiscing in these ways with music around the holidays and with secular Jewish music works wonders at making those connections that are so important.

LIFE: Do your programs also involve family members as well as clients?

Joseph: Music therapy sessions regularly involve families and clients together.

LIFE: How can your therapy work with clients also benefit their family caregivers?

Joseph: That’s a great question! There are many benefits of music therapy for families and caregivers. When a loved one has dementia, it doesn’t affect only the individual with dementia, it takes a toll on the family as well. So creating these moments of joy, normalcy, and happy memories is incredibly valuable.

In sessions, we provide opportunities to connect with one another, and reminisce. Families can sing their favorite songs together—these are all things that can happen when a family makes music together.

If you are interested in finding out more about Weinberg Community’s Music Therapy Program, please contact Hannah Joseph, Music Therapist-Board Certified at 847.236.7823 or hannah.joseph@cje.net.