Alive Inside: This Movie Is Extraordinary!

ec9acd50595499364a6994542e145924_largeYou know a movie speaks to the audience when people just sit there as the credits start to roll rather than getting up and moving out. That’s what happened this evening when my husband and I went to see Alive Inside, the Sundance award-winning documentary about the role that music plays in the lives of elderly people who experience brain disease and loneliness. At first, no one got up to leave.

The other day I described how we watched a preview of Alive Inside at one of Dr. Bill Thomas’ Second Wind events last March and how we were moved to tears. That only begins to describe the reactions in the movie theatre tonight. The people in front of me were tearful and talking about a relative. The young people behind me were sniffling and whispering about their grandmother. I was thinking about my family members.

As I looked around, I observed individuals with hands on their faces, hands folded in prayer, and people with eyes riveted to the screen as we all watched person after person, mostly elders, smile, move, talk, remember, and transform — as the music played. We saw exuberance, animation, even joy come on to faces that, only moments before were vacant.

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Alive Inside: Music Brings Back Memories and Dignity

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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. Continue reading

Senior Moment or Alzheimer’s?

As the adult children of aging parents most of us are used to hearing friends and colleagues make the “senior moment” comment. Often when a person over 45 or so has difficulty remembering something, he or she will comment, “…oops, I’m having a senior moment.” I began noticing this in my late 40′s and now, a few years later, it happens at least once a day. I make the comment, too, though I am trying to stop saying it.

Part of this is joking about the normal changes occurring in our brains as we grow older, according to a February 9, 2010 Washington Post article, Memory Lapses Are Common and Increase with Age; When Do They Signal Alzheimer’s? As we get older, our brains become less efficient and we store information less effectively.

My husband's mother would throw her toothbrush into the wastebasket or put it in her sewing box.

My husband’s mother would throw her toothbrush into the wastebasket or put it in her sewing box.

However, now that I have watched the steady decline and eventual death of a family member with dementia I feel my forgetfulness more intensely. As my mother-in-law’s continued experience  more severe dementia symptoms, we found dozens of friends and acquaintances who were experiencing or had experienced the same disease in their families. Just about every person occasionally worried about the potential for dementia in the future. When my husband and I had a moment to think about ourselves during that time, and it was not that often, we wondered how we might prevent dementia from occurring in our lives. It doesn’t feel like a joke that the senior moment comment implies.           Continue reading

Should Physicians Ask Fragile Elders About Guns in Their Homes?

Some time ago I read a newspaper article written by an elderly man who was caring for his wife, who had Alzheimer’s disease. He was doing much of her care at home, and his article spoke of their history, how they had met, his family, and much more about their life together. He was sad but upbeat. A few months later, in the same paper I read an obituary for that man who had shot his wife and committed suicide.

The two articles, juxtaposed, made me feel great sadness. It drove home to me just how helpless and depressed people become — especially those who had great control over their lives — when confronted by a family member who has one of the dementia brain diseases.

The July 9, 2013 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine features a journal commentary, Geriatric Patients, Firearms, and Physicians, recommending that physicians evaluate an elder’s firearms risk just like they evaluate other risks such as driving and living alone. The author, Marshall B. Kapp, JD, MPH, points out that the “use of firearms, has become the most common suicide method for both geriatric men and women.”

The Recommendations in the Article?                Continue reading

New Yorker Article on New Models of Long-term Elder Care

This is the issue where the article appeared.

This is the issue where the article appeared.

If you can locate a copy of The New Yorker May 20, 2013 article The Sense of An Ending by Rebecca Mead, it’s well worth reading because of its focus on new models of providing care to fragile elders with dementia illnesses in nursing homes. The article extensively describes the Beatitudes Campus in Arizona, but it also mentions The Green House Project and the Pioneer Network. The Beatitudes model and The Green House Project  share many approaches.

So I was excited during dinner with friends last month when one of the people at the table, a neurologist, mentioned The New Yorker article, saying how excited he was to learn about new models that completely change the way we deliver care  to fragile elders, especially those with memory impairments. After he spoke at length about the article — which I had not read yet — I shared information and my blog posts about the new Woodland Park Green Houses in Harrisonburg, VA. Our physician friend seemed really eager to learn a lot more.

I”ve spent the past several years learning as much as I can about The Green House Project, primarily because my parents live at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC), where the Woodland Park community recently welcomed new residents. However, I’ve been so focused on this small Virginia project (but huge in spirit and dedication) that I’ve not thought much about how people can share information on the amazing changes that are taking place in long-term nursing care.

Certainly educating neurologists — the physicians all over the country who provide medical care to people with dementia and Alzheimer’s and who may, in the long run, be asked for their thoughts on the types of memory care that are available to families is a path to consider.

Innovation During the Coming Epidemic of Memory Impairment

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The Museum of Medical History and Innovation in Boston

I just finished reading How to Defeat Alzheimer’s, a May 28, 2013 article in the Los Angeles Times. The article, by David Shubert, PhD, of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, reminds readers of the vast number of boomers who will experience memory impairments (14 million in 2050) at the end of their lives, requiring extensive medical and caregiving support. No cure is in sight, not even that many hopeful signs for possible cure, and research is not keeping up. Dr. Shubert offers some “out-of-the-box” ideas to move along the study of dementia diseases.

As a member of the sandwich generation — I have a married adult daughter and aging parents — I am aware of the challenges that Alzheimer’s and dementia may present for my parents, for my generation, including me, and for young adults who will likely observe a fair number of their relatives passing through various stages of brain impairment. Yet, with so many people moving inexorably toward dementia illnesses, the situation also offers an opportunity for researchers to learn more than ever before and get answers to at least a few of the unanswered questions. The boomer generation may become a sentinel cohort that helps medical researchers find some answers to Alzheimer’s. Continue reading