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Alive Inside

by | July 6, 2015

A beautiful, amazing documentary. The ability of music to transform the lives of people suffering from memory loss (and other cognitive & physical disfunction) in this film is nothing short of miraculous. All families with a loved one suffering from dementia or Alzheimers should see Alive Inside!

Michael Rossato-Bennett‘s documentary follows Dan Cohen, social worker and founder of the non-profit Music & Memory, in his work, primarily with individuals isolated in nursing homes. Dan creates personalized playlists of music for his patients.

“Music connects people with who they have been, who they are, and their lives,” Dan says. “Because what happens when you get old is all the things you’re familiar with and your identity are all just being peeled away.”

The personalized playlists Dan offers don’t just help these men and women suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s relax or distract them from their suffering – it completely transforms and revitalizes them. The fog of memory loss is lifted and they are able to remember themselves, their lives. Their identity, their joy, their memories are restored.

“It can’t get away from me when I’m in this place,” says one woman.

And physical function is restored, too. Some patients can talk again, move their bodies, are able to walk and dance.

Part of what I found so exciting about Dan’s work is that music therapy is easy to do, and empowering – both for the patients and their families. We can make a difference in our loved ones’ lives, in a way that no medicine can. And it’s a simple as creating an iPod playlist with our loved one’s favorite music: music from their youth, music they enjoyed with a husband or wife, music from their wedding day, music they loved during easier times. So simple! As Dr. Bill Thomas says in the film, music touches the heart and soul of a patient. No medicine does that.

Various neuroscientists feature in the film. They explain the science behind music therapy.

“Music has more ability to activate more parts of the brain than any other stimulus,” says Dr. Oliver Sacks.

“By exciting or awakening those pathways, we have a gateway to stimulate and reach somebody who otherwise is unreachable,” says another. Amazing!

I also really appreciated the film’s message that our elders are important, their lives are still worthwhile and worth living. And that they should be respected for their age. We are such a youth obsessed culture that doesn’t appreciate the elderly. Just this morning I read that a TV commentator said the elderly should be euthanized! How awful! Just because our bodies and minds change and age, doesn’t mean we lose value as a human being. In fact, our elders should be all the more appreciated for their age, their wisdom, and their experiences.

“American culture is wrong,” says Dr. Bill Thomas. “There is actually life beyond adulthood. There’s the opportunity to live and grow and become elders. The aging that we experience holds in it very important learnings and lessons.”

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Winner of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award.

Music & Memory: Dan Cohen’s organization. “A non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life.”

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All photos courtesy of Alive Inside.


Coral Tree In-home Care provides caregivers, old-fashioned kindness, and neighborly support to older adults who want to live at own home safely, comfortably, and as independently as possible. Since 2010 we’ve helped more than 350 families in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Newport Coast, and neighboring Southern California communities live safer, happier lives.

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