Alive Inside Shows the Power of Music as Therapy for Dementia Patients


Practically guaranteed to elicit tears within its first five minutes, Alive Inside — a documentary about activist Dan Cohen’s attempts to get nursing homes to use music as a part of their care regimen for those afflicted with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s diseases — is nonetheless more than just a tearjerker.

Opening with clips of an unwell elderly woman and man becoming rejuvenated, physically and mentally, after listening to the favorite songs of their youth, director Michael Rossato-Bennett’s moving film argues music’s therapeutic value on slowly deteriorating minds.

This treatment is the brainchild of Cohen, whose Music & Memory non-profit organization advocates such methods as a way to not only relight the spark of senior citizens cast into mental darkness but also — by functioning as an at-home alternative to pharmaceutical medication — to help alleviate an increasingly overly burdened health care system.

That latter argument is far from thoroughly (or convincingly) laid out. Yet Rossato-Bennett’s footage of confused and/or comatose older people being euphorically reinvigorated by songs on Cohen’s iPod compellingly conveys how music — so intimately wedded to our emotions, and experiences — can help the severely ill elderly reconnect with themselves.