Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory, is a documentary film contender at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The movie explores the healing effects of music on Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients. In some cases, merely listening to music from their youth caused patients to become calmer, brought back old memories, and helped to lower the amount of anti-psychotic drugs administered. The question, of course, becomes: Can music help treat dementia?
“Very often, people with Alzheimer’s get agitated,” said Music & Memory founder Dan Cohen, according to the NY Daily News. “They’re losing control, they’re confused, they can’t communicate. Music you remember from when you were young remains even if you’re low on short-term memory, so we want to take advantage of that.”
The film, written and directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett, uses three years of material collected while working with Cohen during his efforts to integrate personalized music into nursing homes. The footage captures what happens when nursing home patients are given iPods that play music from their youth. Those patients, who are usually quiet and rarely communicative due to the frustrating nature of dementia, “lit up” while listening to the music. One patient in the film, named Henry, expressed exactly what he was feeling after listening to “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” on his iPod. "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," Henry said.
Henry’s experience, along with the other patients who participate in Cohen’s music programs, aren’t necessarily unique. In 2010, a Boston University study found that music does boost memory in Alzheimer’s patients. Not only did music help bring back old memories, but it also helped patients retain new information like remembering to take their daily meds. “While the parts of the brain where we make memories — the medial temporal lobes like the hippocampus — are the first parts to be ravaged as Alzheimer’s develops, music pulls from the cortical and subcortical areas, which aren’t as damaged by the disease,” said the study’s researchers.
Alive Inside will be showcased at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend in Park City, Utah. You can watch a clip from the movie below: