The Quickening Art

February 8, 2013

Alive Inside is an epiphanic film. It demonstrates what happens when Dan Cohen, a social worker in an East Coast nursing home, plays personally tailored music via iPod headsets for older residents diagnosed with dementia and other “imprisoning” disorders. The results are simple and striking. The residents awaken and come alive. They move, sing, and dance. They have episodic memory for events associated with the music. They smile and weep with joy. They seem in touch with themselves. Quite literally, they appear to be different people. I emphasize these two words because they stand in stark contrast to the sameness and depersonalization often imposed upon them, blinded by culture-driven presumptions of their dementia.

The first of its two basic segments illustrates the sudden changes in behavior experienced by several different residents who listen to personalized music. Henry, an elderly wheelchair “slumper” with dementia, sings the lyrics of songs he remembers from his childhood. Denise, a younger woman diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenic disorder, pushes away the walker that has been her companion for 2 years and begins a lively choreographed-from-memory dance with Cohen to Spanish music. Not much is known about the elderly resident named John. He is a former stage performer who responds to his music by serenading the other residents with “Some Enchanted Evening” though he does not know why.

Read full review in The Gerontologist