Image of Henry from the film.
Earlier last week a friend called my attention to an online preview of the documentary film, Alive Inside. Produced by Ximotion Media, the film follows social worker Dan Cohen as he brings IPods filled with music to residents in a nursing home. It’s not long before the patients—many of whom were previously silenced by dementia—begin communicating again.
The clip that’s been circulating online features Henry, a man who’s confined to a wheel chair, is virtually nonverbal, and doesn’t even recognize his daughter who visits him daily. After he’s given headphones to listen to Cab Calloway, one of his favorite musicians, his eyes light up and he begins to sing along. It’s not long before he’s speaking again, expressing how music encapsulates feelings of love and humanity. Social worker Dan Cohen seeks out the expertise of neurologist Oliver Sacks and together they investigate how music affects our brains in the most profound of ways. The patients aren’t cured of their dementia, but they do find news ways to communicate, which clearly provides a huge dose of hope to the family members and staff who care for them, an oft under-recognized casualty of the illness.
Chances are that you have, or will, care for someone with dementia. Watching a loved one lose their ability to communicate is one of the more difficult things any of us will face. The fact that music remains so powerful in the lives of those with dementia will probably come as no surprise to anyone who’s grown up with music, be it in church, on the radio, or in juke joints. Music is a link to our past, a connection to former generations, and can encapsulate hope for the future.
In watching the film preview I was reminded of all those times as a child when we visited area nursing homes to sing to the residents, many of them joining us and singing along to songs decades old. I thought about how my own grandmother, fully overcome with dementia, didn’t always know where she was but could remember every word to the gospel songs her husband once sang as a song leader in the rural Chickalah Church of Christ. And I remembered how her roommate, a woman who often mistakenly brushed her hair with a sock, was the one who had to remind me of many of the melodies that afternoon when we broke out the old hymnal in their room in Stella Manor. I’m sure you have similar stories. Music is a bridge builder across years and generations and possesses a mysterious power that is beyond our ability to articulate.
The producers hope this film will be more than just a moving story. They want it to fuel a grassroots movement of everyday folks thinking of ways they can bring music to their own loved ones and others in area nursing homes. After all, we are surrounded by Ipods and other forms of technology. Too often they’re just sitting in drawers gathering dust. The film begs the question: How can we use the technology we take for granted to reach out to our elders? And, of course, the bigger question becomes: what are each of us doing to care for the aged in our community? I’d love to hear what you’re doing and other ideas you might have that can help all of us transcend generational gaps. You can watch the film clips at http://www.ximotionmedia.com. And for those of you who care for the aging in our society: thank you. Your job is one of the most important in all the world.
You can watch the preview below. You can learn more about the Music and Memory Project by clicking here.
Alive Inside Trailer from Michael Rossato-Bennett on Vimeo.