Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it.
In one of my all-time favorite movies, “Awakenings”, the late Robin Williams plays a doctor who discovers the beneficial effects of the then-new drug L-Dopa. He administers it to comatose patients who after decades of catatonia, yield astounding results as they all completely “awake” from their catatonic state for a period of time but eventually, they all return to it, no matter how much their L-Dopa dosage increases. The movie was based on a true story by doctor Oliver Sacks who wrote a book about his medical findings. With “Alive Inside”, we are shown just how effective music can be to many people who are in some state of Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, proves that many senior citizens in nursing homes, don’t need administered drugs, all they need is some music to make them feel better.
There is absolutely nothing more heartbreaking than watching two elderly people, one with Alzheimer’s and the other caring for them, and the sick person not being able to remember who they are. But when the headphones are placed on their head and they can hear the music that they used to listen to, suddenly, flashes of their lives come gushing back and for a moment, they are able to recognize their spouse and immediately tell them that they love them, before they forget again. America is spending billions of dollars on drugs for people who suffer from Dementia and they just don’t work. Who could have imagined, that something as simple and effective as music, would be the catalyst that would allow these people some element of remembrance, no matter how brief?
As one doctor so eloquently puts it, he could write a prescription for a $1,000 a month anti-depressant for an Alzheimer’s patient that nobody would have any objection to but if he wanted to provide a $40 iPod for that same person, because the effects of the music are substantially more effective than the drugs, that would be a big issue because technically, personal music doesn’t count as a medical intervention. Mr. Cohen and his ‘method’ are considered outside the realm of conventional practice and it is for this very reason, that it is virtually impossible, to get many of the nursing homes to at least consider it. You would be more prone to getting a response from them if you stood in their doorway and banged your head against their door.
We have all had or have someone elderly in our lives, whether it was our grandparents or parents, and the culture in America right now, is to dump them in a nursing facility when we no longer have the time or want to make the time to take care of them. They took care of us when we were young and helped raise us into the people we are today so why is this generation so quick to send them away? Are we really so busy with our lives that our jobs are more important than our family? I remember growing up and always being taught to respect your elders. God knows they deserved it, they earned it and they always had words of wisdom from a life well lived, something of importance to pass down through their family but today, that means relatively nothing to a culture more interested in their iPhones and laptops than in human interaction.
“Alive Inside” forces us to realize that it is not too late, that the simple gesture of human touch, can mean the whole world to someone locked away in a facility that treats them less like humans and more like numbers. There are many caregivers in these facilities who love and care for them but who better to love them than their own families? “Alive Inside” is a beautiful testament to the human spirit and what we can achieve when we set out to help others with no intention of personal gain. As Robin Williams said in “Patch Adams”, “You treat the disease, you win, you lose. You treat the person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.” Never were truer words spoken. Very highly recommended.
In select theaters August 22nd including the Angelika in Dallas and Plano