Award-winning Sundance Documentary Shows How Music Can Ease Alzheimer’s

Award-winning Sundance Documentary Shows How Music Can Ease Alzheimer’s

Posted on February 19, 2014 by ElderCare Resources Phoenix in Alzheimers Care, Blog, Caregiver Education, Dementia Care, Education, Memory Loss, Nursing Homes

“Alive Inside” takes on the roll to investigate the power of music for those who suffer with Alzheimer’s Disease.

By Barbara Greenberg & Jana Wilcke – 21st Century Media News Service

Every January my girlfriends and I have the pleasure of attending the Sundance Film Festival, held in Park City, Utah. This is a “girlfriends only” trip, where we connect with dear friends, view films and catch up on each other’s lives.

This year, however, we were all especially inspired by the Sundance Documentary Audience Award winner, “Alive Inside”. It moved us to take on a cause that affects many of us — the care of our parents and other loved ones, especially those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

“Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory” tells the story of how a personally designed playlist of music can reawaken patients captured by grips of Alzheimer’s. More than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia — many of them alone, in nursing homes.

However, much to our astonishment, we saw how social worker Dan Cohen “discovered that songs, embedded deep in memory, can ease pain and awaken the fading souls and minds of these people.”

In “Alive Inside” we watched Dan Cohen meet with caregivers, family and friends to create a patient’s personal playlists of songs. As the patients listen through headphones and an iPod to the music from their past, an incredible transformation occurs.

We watch in amazement as one patient, 90-year-old Henry, a man who spent several years “hunched over in his chair, incapable of answering questions beyond a yes or no,” literally woke up and began to “come alive” again.

According to Dr. Oliver Sacks, we see that music has the power to awaken deeply locked memories. You can watch this for yourself at

“Families are excited about how some of their loved ones are more engaged in conversation, in better mood, and actually awake and more engaged throughout the day,” said Deb Jacoby, Rocky Knoll Health Care Center, Plymouth, Wisc.

Director Michael Rossairo-Bennett explains that the portion of the brain involved with music memory is the last to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease. So each personalized playlist of music triggers happy times and good memories in people suffering from memory loss and even mental illness.

The songs light up the part of their brain that stores music memory, and even more incredibly, rekindles memory about past and self. The simple use of an iPod and some favorite tunes far surpasses the effect that can be achieved by pharmaceutical interventions, according to the physicians interviewed for the film.

This improvement in quality of life for sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease is well established in neuroscience research. However, even though music therapy is far cheaper than the cost of the pharmaceutical regimens of these patients, iPods and playlists are not reimbursed by Medicare or insurance. The filmmakers hope to see this change.

“We hope that our film will inspire and educate the millions of people burdened by diseases that affect memory, and create a grassroots demand for this kind of low-cost treatment, which could help not only patients but also caregivers across the globe,” said Cohen. “Like many films that concentrate on a simple story but echo into larger stories, we feel this film raises questions about how we as a society care for the elderly and afflicted.”

In true Sundance form, these indie filmmakers have presented films that matter, that inspire. “Alive Inside” is one of those films. We have decided to take action and help the Music and Memory Foundation. Our nonprofit, Kids Who Care, will be collecting used iPods and mp3 players of any type.

Please visit our for more information and the address where to send them. The iPod will be erased and reloaded with a personal playlist of an Alzheimer’s patient. As a 501-3c, we will send you a tax receipt.

Some of you may have parents or loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. We do too. That’s why we can easily all do something to spread music, reawaken memory for those in nursing homes and see if it brings a little happiness to the ones we love.

—Barbara Greenberg, who was born in Cheltenham Township and now lives in Phoenix, helps cover Sundance each year for Ticket.

Published: Montgomery Media