A few days ago I saw a documentary that profoundly affected me. It’s called Alive Inside and it’s about the liberating effect music has on people who suffer from dementia or who are confined to nursing homes for other debilitating health reasons. It was electrifying.
My husband had heard about it somehow and showed me the trailer on YouTube. I watched it and said, “Oh dear, I will cry.” And that’s exactly what happened. We went to the movie on its last night in Seattle, and as we watched both of us laughed and cried and sat open-mouthed as people who looked like crumpled dead things, who hadn’t communicated in years, who couldn’t remember their past, were given ipods with their favorite music in them. As they listened their eyes lit up, their heads lifted, they wiggled to the beat, some even began to sing. And a few actually put aside their walkers and began to dance! And all, almost invariably, began to talk, to remember the past, to come alive. It’s hard to find the words to express its impact on us.
This has all come about through the work of Dan Cohen, who as a social worker in nursing homes began to observe music’s stimulation on those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. And all by himself he began a crusade to bring ipods to nursing home residents. It has been a long, lonely, uphill battle for him. Elder care has been heavily institutionalized in this country and doesn’t get much attention. But he kept bringing ipods to the elderly, seeking donations, making connections with other like-minded people, and eventually formed a non-profit, Music and Memory, that is beginning to make a dent in the need.
NPR did a story on Dan Cohen and the movie in 2012. Read some of the listener comments below the story. One woman writes about working with psychotic patients and seeing similar results.
If you possibly can, find a way to see this movie. Those of us who are in our right minds and enjoy the great privilege of singing and making music have an obligation to those around us. It’s good to feed the souls of those who are whole through fine concerts and exceptional music. It’s also good to feed the souls of those who can’t feed themselves.
Dr. Linda Gingrich
Artistic director and conductor
Master Chorus Eastside