We came across a documentary on Netflix that had us both in tears and full of joy about the power of music.
The documentary, “Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory,” documents a music therapy program that assists elderly people living with dementia in nursing homes. In the beginning, you see the patients who are lethargic, lacking in emotion and sometimes completely unresponsive. Then, their caregiver gives them an iPod filled with their favorite sounds from their younger days and a transformation occurs that seems almost magical.
Their eyes light up, they sing, they move to the beat. When one resident hears her favorite Latin song, she pushes aside her walker and starts dancing. Another wheelchair-bound man moved his legs fervently upon hearing “Oh Johnny” by the Andrews Sisters. A woman who spends her days and nights in bed with her eyes closed begins moving her entire body once headphones are placed over her ears.
It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
“The parts of the brain which are involved in remembering music and responding to music are not affected too much in Alzheimer’s Disease or other dementias,” says neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks in the documentary. He also has published his own research on music called Musicophilia.
The key is to give patients music that they like and reminds them of their youth. Given that most have lost their memory, caregivers do a lot of research to find music that will have a strong connection for their patients.
According to the documentary, there are 5 million people in America living with dementia. And the music therapy program the documentary highlights, Music & Memory, is trying to reach nursing homes throughout the country.
“What we’re spending on drugs that mostly don’t work dwarfs what it would take to deliver personal music to every nursing home resident in America,” says gerontologist Dr. Bill Thomas.
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