Alive Inside: Music Brings Back Memories and Dignity


Note: If after reading this post you are interested in seeing the movie, please check out my Alive Inside movie review.

I discovered Alive Inside, the Sundance award-winning documentary film that demonstrates the power that music can exercise over memory loss, a few months ago when my husband and I shared an amazing experience attending the Second Wind Tour. This nationwide  extravaganza that travelled over the country helped Dr. Bill Thomas to launch Second Wind, his new book about aging and the importance of living in deeper and more thoughtful ways, included a partial screening of Alive Inside (check out the trailer below), and I left the event in greater awe of music than ever before. That’s saying a lot because I’m a lifelong musician.

Alive Inside

Find a way to see the movie!

Alive Inside, Michael Rossato-Bennett’s documentary film, tells the story of a man’s determination to try a new kind of therapy with patients experiencing severe memory loss. Dan Cohen gives iPods personalized with music to people with severe memory impairment, and then watches how they listen and respond.The results, you see them right there on the screen, are astonishing.

The fragile people, mostly elders, listening to the music begin to react, interact, and even talk about experiences that the music reawakens. They associate the music with memories that often come rushing back and often with each individual’s ability to talk about the memories. Cohen pursues his projects against considerable odds — namely a healthcare system that treats aging as a medical problem rather than a time of life.

The documentary features Dr. Bill Thomas and also includes a segment with world-famous neurologist and author, Dr. Oliver Sacks, who describes in some detail, what is likely happening to the brains of these people when they begin listening to the music.

Cohen, a social worker, has established a nonprofit organization, Music and Memory, that’s dedicated to teaching nursing home staff members, elder care professionals, and family caregivers:

…how to create and provide personalized playlists using iPods and related digital audio systems that enable those struggling with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other cognitive and physical challenges to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.

You can learn much more about the program that Dan Cohen has created at the Music and Memory about page. The page also explains how to donate old iPods for the project.

If you have a family member or friend with memory loss issues, you need to see this movie. Alive Inside is now in theaters across the country. If it is not in a theater near you, find out how to organize a screening in your area.



4 thoughts on “Alive Inside: Music Brings Back Memories and Dignity

  1. Pingback: Alive Inside: This Movie Is Extraordinary! | As Our Parents Age

  2. As a Geriatric Nurse Care Manager I have watched “Alive Inside” several times! It is the most amazing documentary about how we treat our elderly in the US. A number of years ago I found an investor to support making a DVD for Alzheimer’s patients to entertain them and not let them sit idle without any thing to enjoy. It is called The Journey Remembered. It combines music and people in short stories without any words. Just as Dan Cohen has commented, “I thought they would fly off the shelves!” What is wrong with our society that we can not look at options that truly make a difference. One person in the documentary mentioned the “living dead!” How sad that we are not willing to look past the physical body and remember that there is a real person “Alive Inside!” Gayle Horton

    • Thanks, Gayle. I agree that the results of music activities and “therapy” with individuals who have various memory diseases is nothing short of extraordinary. I have recently rounded up two iPods that I hope to send to the project.

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