Music and Memory

by Stephanie Koop, CWC Assessment Nurse

“Alive Inside” is an uplifting documenta- ry that showcases the incredible power of music for individuals suffering with dementia and some psychi- atric disorders. Over the course of several years, Dan Cohen, a social worker, inter- viewed numerous individuals in nursing homes and assessed their reactions to per- sonalized music lists played via iPod and listened to through headphones. The resident’s responses were nothing short of miraculous. Individuals who had spent years nearly unresponsive became more alert, keeping time to the music with their heads, hands, and feet. Some became so engaged that they began singing and interacting with the people around them which they had not done for years.

Music connects us with our most ba- sic selves. And for people with dementia, this most essential part of self that was lost can be found again and activated by play- ing the music that is most meaningful to an individual. Usually, this is music that was enjoyed during childhood and early adult- hood. Music allows us to reconnect with who we are and who we have been. In the documentary, the spouse of one woman with dementia has kept his wife home for 10 years maintaining an engaged relation- ship with her despite her decline through her connection with music.
Cohen says music is the ‘backdoor into the mind’. It activates the brain’s deepest recesses of emotion and movement, yield- ing amazing results. When individuals face enormous losses like loss of independence, control, dignity, self, and more, they with- draw to protect themselves. You can see this experience being played out in many nursing homes. Music can help heal this trauma to self. Doctors that have seen these results have said that music is better than drugs in many instances-allowing people to remain engaged in  their  lives  in an enjoyable way instead of having to sedate them for agitation due to loss.

The non-profit organization, Music and Memory (https://musican- dmemory.or g), founded by Cohen helps people suffering from a wide variety of  disorders  find ‘renewed  meaning  and connection in their lives through the gift of personalized music’. His group trains pro- fessionals how to find, set up, and deliver this music to individuals with dementia and other issues. Yolo Hospice, University Re- tirement Community, and St. John’s Retire- ment Village in Yolo County, are all certi- fied Music and Memory providers.

To see this documentary online, go to  It’s worth it!


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This website was originally created by James Hutchison