BIFF: Alive Inside

Alive Inside examines music as treatment for Alzheimer\'s

Alive Inside confirms what many of us already knew: The healing, soothing power of music has been underestimated by the medical community for decades. This moving documentary focuses on individuals in nursing homes who have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and who are either acting out in negative ways or who are largely unresponsive. They dutifully swallow their pills, as Big Pharma reaps the profits, but their quality of life is pitiful.

Along comes social worker Dan Cohen, bearing earphones and iPods, and the results are striking.

The most moving image comes early in the film, when 92-year-old Henry Dryer is seen hunched over in his chair, uncommunicative, unable to identify his daughter. We hear from her how he used to be the life of the party, always singing.

When the headphones are slipped on and Dryer’s favorite music starts playing, his eyes pop out, his face lights up, and he starts singing along. Immediately after the earphones are removed, he is coherent, answering questions, even belting out “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” when asked about his favorite Cab Calloway song.

Music has a similar effect on other nursing home residents, from a bedridden, motionless woman who begins twitching as the music plays to a volatile, bipolar and schizophrenic woman who casts aside her walker and begins dancing with Cohen with her headphones on. Then there is the man who talks about the music reminding him of being with a certain girl. The memories all come flooding back, thanks to the music, and it takes these people to a happier place, to their youth, when they weren’t trapped, isolated, in an institution.

But the real message of the film comes when nursing home administrators are shown being hesitant to adopt the music approach — even though it costs thousands of dollars less than the prescription drugs that these patients are popping.

Even if the iPods are not curing any diseases, it’s clear that the power of music is improving these individuals’ quality of life immensely.

Meanwhile, the YouTube video of Dryer’s reaction to the music has gotten more than 8 million hits. It’s clearly hitting a chord, so to speak.

Even if you don’t want to give cash to this campaign, there is an opportunity to donate your old iPod.

For more information about the film, visit And visit Cohen’s website at


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