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Doc suggests music helps elderly remember

Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett, left, producer Alexandra McDougald, and documentary subject Dan Cohen during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. (Larry Busacca/Getty Images/AFP)

PARK CITY, Utah: It won’t cure dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but music can nevertheless help sufferers “wake up” their memories. So suggests a moving documentary presented at the Sundance Film Festival.

“Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory,” the debut feature film by Michael Rossato-Bennett, follows the efforts of one man to convince Americans of the benefits music offers people with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Dan Cohen, founder of the non-profit organization Memory and Music, arms himself with headphones and music players as – to the surprise of care-givers – he shows how patients locked in silence and lost in the maze of dementia seem to find some memories and feelings when they hear the music they love.

With the cameras looking on, many patients begin to talk, smile, sing and even dance, as their families look on stunned.

“It’s not a cure,” stressed Rossato-Bennett, whose film went on show at Utah’s premier independent film festival at the weekend. “And there is no way to get [back] these memory cells that have been destroyed.”

He says, however, that music has the ability to penetrate into the recesses of the brain less affected by dementia, which affects 5 million U.S. citizens.

When he founded Memory and Music, Cohen’s vision was a simple one: to bring a better quality of life to the elderly through music.

The fate of the elderly and infirm is something about which Rossato-Bennett shows an intense passion.

“We live in a time, in a culture, where we’re not really sure how much we care about humanity anymore,” he said. “We know we care about industry, progress, commerce. But maybe elders are no longer useful. We’re done with them.

“Humanity is at a turning point,” he added. “With our technology, we’re gods. I really think we need to rethink almost everything and we’ll have to, eventually. If we are creating global warming, at some point, we can’t ignore it. If we are overfishing our oceans, at some point we can’t ignore it.

“If our elders are not having a human life, at some point we cannot ignore it. So we will change.

“In 10-15 years in the U.S., we’re gonna need to double the beds in nursing homes if we do it that way. We can’t do it. We can barely afford what we have now. Double would literally bankrupt this country. People are gonna have to live at home longer, that’s the only solution.

“When you have Alzheimer’s or dementia, the world becomes overwhelming, you can’t differentiate what’s happening outside and inside, you can’t do it.”

The Sundance Film Festival runs until Jan. 26 in Park City, Utah.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 22, 2014, on page 16.

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Summary

It won't cure dementia or Alzheimer's disease, but music can nevertheless help sufferers "wake up" their memories. So suggests a moving documentary presented at the Sundance Film Festival.

"Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory," the debut feature film by Michael Rossato-Bennett, follows the efforts of one man to convince Americans of the benefits music offers people with dementia or Alzheimer's.

He says, however, that music has the ability to penetrate into the recesses of the brain less affected by dementia, which affects 5 million U.S. citizens.

When he founded Memory and Music, Cohen's vision was a simple one: to bring a better quality of life to the elderly through music.


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