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April 17, 2012

Music may play an amazing role in triggering the memory of elderly patients, and patients suffering from dementia.  The following is excerpted from the description of the documentary, “Alive Inside,” to be released April 18, 2012.

Alive Inside investigates … the power music has to awaken deeply locked memories. The film follows Dan Cohen, a social worker, who decides on a whim to bring iPods to a nursing home.  To his and the staff’s surprise, many residents suffering from memory loss seem to “awaken” when they are able to listen to music from their past.  With great excitement, Dan turns to renowned neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, and we follow them both as we investigate the mysterious way music functions inside our brains and our lives.

“Alive Inside” focuses on one man’s journey, but it raises many deep questions about what it means to still be Alive Inside. It questions when we stop being human, and what it takes to re-start a life that has faded away. It asks questions about how we see our elderly, and how we are going to treat an epidemic of these degenerative diseases.

In the movie, Dr. Oliver Sacks is heard talking about Henry, a patient who suffers from dementia:

We first see Henry, inert, maybe depressed, unresponsive, and almost un-alive.  Then he is given an iPod containing his favorite music…Immediately he lights up.  His face assumes expression. His eyes open wide.  He starts to sing and to rock, and to move his arms. He is animated by the music.

Later Dr. Sacks continues:

With this beautiful new technology you can have all the music which is significant for you in something as big as a matchbox…I think this may be very, very important in helping to animate, organize and bring a sense of identity to those who are out of it otherwise.  Music will bring them back into…their own personhood, their own memories, their own autobiographies.

You can watch a clip from “Alive Inside” here:

Music may be a tool in helping us treat our elderly with dignity and compassion.

(contributed by Dr. Sharon Christman, Department of Nursing)

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