Sunday, November 2, 2014

Alive Inside: Film Review

Limited Release 18 July 2014
Available on DVD 18 Nov 2014
I wasn't able to sleep in Sunday morning, despite the opportunity to "fall back" with Daylight Savings Time.

With an extra hour on my hands, I decided to watch the 78-minute documentary Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory (2014).

I wept through the entire film.

Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett follows Dan Cohen, founder of Music and Memory for three years as Cohen gives people with dementia personalized iPods.

Cohen asks people with dementia or their caregivers, "What are your favorite songs?"  Then he builds a playlist around those songs and gives people their own iPod and set of headphones.

When residents hear their favorite music from bygone decades, the "come alive" with an increase in their language, movement, memory and social engagement.  These scenes were very moving.

Some people might remember seeing this clip of Henry, uploaded to youtube in November 2011--three years in advance of the film's completion.

This clip of Henry's transformation went viral in the spring of 2012.  Now a full-length documentary has been released in theaters and will soon be available on DVD (November 18, 2014).

Too often, people with dementia lack stimulation, which only pushes them further into detaching from the world around them.  The documentary not only shows this, many experts on aging, the brain, elder care and music tell us this as well.

Dr. Bill Thomas, founder of the Eden Alternative, appears in this documentary and laments the way older adults have been warehoused away from other people and put in an overly medicalized environment.  Cohen's work humanizes older adults and attends to their social, emotional and spiritual needs.  The institutional nature of most elder care focuses only on their physical needs.

Music reaches into the emotional centers of the brain.  When dementia damages the frontal cortex first, leaving the emotional centers of the brain intact for longer.  Part of this documentary includes explanations by neurologist Dr. Oliver Sachs about the connection between music and memory.

Musicians Bobby McFerrin and Samite Mulando also punctuate this message as artists as participants.  One of the most powerful scenes shows Samite playing music for Denise, a woman who then touches his head and face while he is playing.  She is often brusk with her caregivers, but here she is quite tender, noting that the music Samite plays is "soothing."

According to the Alzheimer's Organization, there are more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer's Disease--and that number doesn't account for people with other forms of dementia. Each person with dementia struggles to maintain their relationships, identity and daily functions.  They also struggle with depression. 

Cohen's work demonstrates that even though people might have serious cognition problems, they still have the ability to feel joy, to access memories and to engage with the world around them.

Currently, the film is available on Netflix through livestreaming.


Books about Dementia
Movies about Alzheimer's Disease
Music Triggers Memories


  1. Have heard about this film and while music has been considered transformational among the elderly for years, this helps solidify what must be done in the later years.

    1. It does provide compelling evidence! Reading the research about the power of music is one thing (which I've done), watching the transformation is quite another thing. Have a lovely week, Tabor.

  2. I've been looking fwd to this film since I saw the previews months back.

  3. Thanks for sharing this film. It sounds fascinating.

  4. Thanks for putting this one on my radar. I spend hours listening to my IPOD every day. :)

  5. What a wonderful film. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  6. Finally some "research" that makes sense and is beneficial to mankind. Of course, it took filmmakers to get it going. More reason to embrace our creative sides!

  7. I had not heard of this film, it looks marvelous, thank you so much for taking the time to share it!

  8. Oh, I've been so wanting to see this but didn't realize it was streaming on Netflix. This is what we will be doing tonight, thank you!

  9. Oh Karen, I did not know I this was available now! I so want to see this movie for so many reasons - most of which you can absolutely guess! Thank you for the great review and the heads up that I can watch this now!

  10. Wow - this has given me a wonderful idea for a gift for my 93 year old mother. She doesn't have dementia but some days are better than other in terms of her cognitive abilities. But I could make her a play list of all her old songs - she would probably love that. What a fantastic idea.

  11. What an interesting film. Thanks for sharing!

  12. I used to work for a hospice that had a music therapy program. We worked with caregivers and family members to create a CD for our patients' favorite songs from when they were in their prime. And we'd supply little CD players for them. Just like the film showed, they did indeed come alive. Getting to see them enjoying, even singing along with their songs was such a gift. Some of these people never spoke a word, but would sing right along, never missing a word.

  13. I too believe in the great power of music. What a great film! I really want to see it now.