Last weekend I drove 34 miles to the Laemmle Theater in Pasadena because that was the closest theater showing the documentary Alive Inside. I'd heard about the film on NPR, and I knew from the clips and blurbs I saw and read online that I would love it. I did.
Here's the basic premise of the film: Provide era-specific music to dementia patients, then sit back and enjoy the miraculous result.
More specifically: Social worker Dan Cohen (upon whom I now have a pretty serious fan-girl crush), in doing volunteer work with the elderly and Alzheimer's patients, wanted to find a way to connect with those who seemed lost inside themselves. He recognized music as a powerful, evocative force which is universal in its appeal. So he filled up some iPods with music from specific decades, purchased a few sets of headphones, then invited a filmmaker to come along and document his attempt to reacquaint patients with the music of their childhood.
To say the resulting footage is profoundly moving would be an understatement. I knew this film would make me cry; the soundtrack of my own life includes all the pieces I have sung in church, in weddings, in funerals, at sporting events, in the shower, on horseback, on my bike, on a mountaintop, in my classroom and a thousand other places. My mama was a singer as was my sister, and my last good memories of my father before he died center around him singing—even as his life ebbed slowly away. But oh my lord, I first began to tear up just seconds into the movie. One minute past that, tears were streaming down my cheeks. Click here to see the story of Henry.
Dan Cohen's foundation, Music & Memory, is dedicated to bringing music to individuals with Alzheimer's and other dementias. What Cohen and others have found is that music stimulates memory in a positive and healthy way, and that it is far more effectual than medications and other traditional therapies for reaching dementia patients who have previously been unresponsive to treatment. Cohen devotes his time and energy to raising funds through Music & Memory in order to offer iPods and headphones to nursing homes across the country.
Alive Inside is an intensely personal film which depicts human kindness and tenderness in its most raw and authentic form. I came away changed, determined to spend a bit more time with my guitar—and also determined to try to help Cohen's vision reach fruition.
Find this movie and go watch it—even if it means a bit of a drive to get there. Then go hug your grandma (if she's still around). Then go to Music & Memory and make a donation. Then—and only then—sit down with your family and sing a few of your favorite songs. Because you still can.
Here's a link to a beautifully done trailer for the film. It's two minutes long but you may need multiple tissues to get through it: Alive Inside trailer