Though not particularly regarded as orthodox therapy, for the sick, the power of music lies in its ability to improve quality of life. Studies have shown that music is able to alleviate stress and produce emotional well-being. This is no more apparent than in patients suffering from dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s disease. A new documentary film, Alive Inside, aims to show just how beneficial music therapy can be for patients suffering from various forms of dementia in nursing homes.
The film profiles seven patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia for whom music has made a big impact on well-being. One such patient is Henry Dryer who doesn’t speak and rarely moves. But when a nurse puts on headphones and plays music for him, he begins to shuffle his feet and rock back in forth in sync with the music he hears. “I feel a band of love, dreams,” said Dryer, 92, who suffers from dementia. “It gives me the feeling of love, romance!”
“There are a million and a half people in nursing homes in this country,” the director told ABC News. “When I saw what happened to Henry, whenever you see a human being awaken like that, it touches something deep inside you.” The director took on the project to promote Music & Memory, a non-profit that supplies nursing home patients with iPods. “When I end up in a nursing home, I’ll want to have my music with me,” said Dan Cohen, executive director of Music & Memory. “There aren’t many things in nursing homes that are personally meaningful activities. Here’s the one easy thing that has a significant impact.” Personalized playlists are put on the iPods, and are compiled by family members. “They’re more alert, more attentive, more cooperative, more engaged,” Cohen said of the effects of music therapy. “Even if they can’t recognize loved ones and they’ve stopped speaking, they hear music and they come alive.”
“There’s something about music that cuts through right up until the very end of the disease,” said Geri Hall, a clinical nurse specialist at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, “It calms them, it increases socialization, and it decreases the need for mood controlling medications.” Of Dryer in particular, his doctor is quoted in the film saying “We first see Henry inert, maybe depressed, unresponsive and almost unalive,” said Sacks, whose account of music therapy in treating Parkinson’s disease inspired the book and film “Awakenings.” “Then he is given an iPod containing his favorite music. … And immediately he lights up.”
According to Alive Inside‘s website, the film “tells a story of hope and beauty in a place where they are hard to find. Produced and directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett, the film follows Dan Cohen as he discovers the power music has to ‘awaken’ minds considered closed.” It premieres Wednesday April 18 at the Rubin Museum in New York City.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting 5.4 million Americans. You can support or donate to Music & Memory by visiting the website through the link above. Here is a trailer for Alive Inside: