The Washington Post

‘Alive Inside’: Documentary examines music’s positive effect on the elderly

Henry lives in a nursing home, and he sits hunched over in his wheelchair, every day, barely responding to his caretakers. But a new documentary, “Alive Inside,” captures the transformation that takes place when he and other patients are handed iPods loaded with music from their youth: They become animated, they sit up, and they remember things about their past that were seemingly lost to diseases like Alzheimers.

(“Alive Inside,” via YouTube)

Alive Inside” is a documentary that studies the effects of music therapy on the elderly, and examines the quality of life of nursing home patients, especially for those who suffer from degenerative diseases. Social worker Dan Cohen, along with neurologist Oliver Sacks, author of “Musicophilia,” describe the way that patients “awaken” when music unlocks memories.

In Henry’s case, a man who could only answer yes or no questions before he listens to a recording is able to sing “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” An interviewer asks Henry what music does to him, and he says, “It gives me the feeling of love, of romance. I figure right now the world needs to come into music, singing. You’ve got beautiful music here.”

It’s hard not to picture yourself in Henry’s place, listening to the Beatles or Nirvana or Adele. Will Lady Gaga or Skrillex be able to provoke such an emotional response from an Alzheimer’s patient in 60 years? What would go on your iPod to help you remember? Tell us in the comments.

“Alive Inside” will premiere on April 18 at the Rubin Museum in New York. Cohen’s Music and Memory organization is soliciting donations of used and new iPods to put music in the hands of nursing home patients across the country.

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.


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