“Alive Inside”: How Dan Cohen’s “Music & Memory” Helps

Michael Rossato-Bennett filmed social worker Dan Cohen and his work with his nonprofit Music & Memory for three years to create the documentary Alive Inside, about music having the power “to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it” (IMDB).

From the Mission Statement of Music & Memory: “Executive Director Dan Cohen founded Music & Memory with a simple idea: Someday, if he ended up in a nursing home, he wanted to be able to listen to his favorite ‘60s music. He’d heard a recent news report about how iPods have grown so popular. Why not bring used iPods as well as new ones into nursing homes, to provide personalized music for residents?”

As shown in Alive Inside, it’s an idea well-respected neurologist Oliver Sacks strongly supports, as music memory is more accessible than other types. Click on “Music and the Brain” to watch a brief video explaining the connection.

James Thilman, The Huffington Post, quotes film director Rossato-Bennett’s reaction to witnessing one man’s amazing transformation. “When [Henry] started to emerge from the cocoon that he had been inside of for ten years, we discovered that he wasn’t just a man — he was a poet, he was a singer. He was lost to the world, and when he emerged, I just started crying.”

Henry’s not the only one seen coming alive to the music. A couple others are described below by Rob Nelson, Variety:

John, a quiet Army vet who served at Los Alamos, perks up at the sound of the Andrews Sisters, practically dancing in his chair. Denise, a bipolar schizophrenic and Schubert fan, pushes away the walking frame she’d been using every day for two years and begins to dance.

One notable benefit of music therapy in nursing homes is a significant decrease in the prescription of antipsychotic medications.

Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post, states, “Music isn’t a cure for anything. But it does seem to be a key to unlocking long-closed doors and establishing connections with people who have become, through age or infirmity, imprisoned inside themselves.”

The trailer to Alive Inside is offered below:

Selected Reviews

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “…(I)t won the audience award at Sundance this year because it will completely slay you, and it has the greatest advantages any such movie can have: Its cause is easy to understand, and requires no massive social change or investment…Cohen’s crusade to bring music into nursing homes could be the leading edge of a monumental change in the way we approach the care and treatment of older people, especially the 5 million or so Americans living with dementia disorders.”

Nicolas Rapold, New York Times: “Neither the value of music nor the deficiencies of certain nursing homes are tough to debate. But a documentary that never leaves any doubt about what comes next, while single-mindedly stumping for a cause presented as unique, is also not terribly interesting as a film.”

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