Beloved Music Can Renew Lives Lost to Dementia

Meet Henry, who suffered from dementia for a decade and barely said a word to anyone—until Music & Memory set up an iPod program at his nursing home:

Every 67 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States – It kills more than Breast Cancer & Prostate Cancer combined.

These statistics drive home just how crucial it is to work towards wiping out Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

One man has dedicated his life over the past three years to pursue a new, unique treatment for Alzheimer’s patients. The treatment is something most of us experience on a daily basis – something universally loved that has been around for ages. Social worker Dan Cohen has discovered that music has the remarkable power of transforming the lives of those living with Alzheimer’s. Patients in nursing homes who are traditionally closed-off, disconnected and non-communicative suddenly come to life upon hearing a favorite song from their past. Countless examples of this music therapy program demonstrate how musical favorites “Tap deep memories not lost to dementia and can bring residents and clients back to life, enabling them to feel like themselves again, to converse, socialize and stay present” (musicandmemory.org). Music not only has amazing affects on patients with neurodegenerative diseases, but also supplements a broken health-care program that offers little freedom, diversity and interpersonal connections.

The above clip, which features Henry’s story, is part of the larger documentary Alive Inside. I was introduced to this film this past weekend at Mountainfilm in Telluride, CO. A fellow movie-goer I sat next to earlier in the day advised me to “Make sure to bring tissues!” This advice couldn’t have been more true during the screening I attended later that evening. Filmed over a three-year period, the documentary captures both the dark and incredibly light moments in the lives of these Alzheimer’s patients. I found myself laughing and crying, out of sadness and happiness. By the time the credits started rolling, I’m fairly confident there was not a dry eye in the house (as evident by the sniffles). You can’t help but see yourselves in their shoes, thinking you could end up there yourself, someday.

Alive Inside and the Music and Memory program which Dan Cohen has begun are a great step in the right direction. Their approach to this problem is inspiring in its simplicity. I highly encourage each and every person to check out the Music and Memory program, and to look out for Alive Inside when it hits theaters this summer. And as a wise man once told me, make sure to bring tissues!

– Christie Quinn

If you are interested in hearing more stories about Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, we will be holding a screening of Running for Jim on June 19 at the Center for the Arts theater. Running for Jim tells the inspiring story of record-breaking cross-country coach Jim Tracy, and how his high school team’s extraordinary finish at the state championship brought the world’s attention to his courageous battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. After the screening, there will be a Q&A with Dr. Paul Cox about cutting edge treatments for ALS, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. For more info: http://www.jhfestival.org/events.html

Check out this great short film for more facts about Alzheimer’s:

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