Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory

I happened to be watching a favorite movie of mine last night which is based on a true story, one I hadn’t seen in quite some time. You’re likely familiar with it as well…

Awakenings Blu-ray case

It’s called “Awakenings”, based on the book of the same name written by Neurologist Oliver Sacks, starring Robin Williams as “Dr. Malcolm Sayer” (which was actually an alias for Sacks), along with Robert Deniro as “Leonard”, a victim of the encephalitis epidemic of the 1920’s. It’s one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen, and touches my heart in so many ways I can’t even begin to describe them all here.

So, what’s this got to do with music? Please bear with me, and read on…


Oliver Sacks
The real Oliver Sacks

After “Awakenings” was over, I became curious, looked more deeply into the work of Sacks, and found there was once an episode about him on the PBS series Nova called “Musical Minds”. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it on any of the streaming services I subscribe to, nor on YouTube or the like.

That’s when I stumbled across a documentary which contains interviews with Sacks in several sections. It’s called “Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory”, and it absolutely blew me away.

It’s story is about a man named Dan Cohen, and his lifelong dream of reaching all victims of Alzheimer’s and Dementia. He uses a very unique approach to accomplish this, by playing music for them that they were intimate with in the past, using simple iPods. Amazingly, it results in all sorts of long-lost memories returning to them nearly instantly, and injects an incredible spark of life into many of those who previously appeared to be almost totally catatonic.

Dan Cohen
Dan Cohen, working with a Dementia patient.

I just had to share at least a bit of it, so I put together a short video of my two favorite patients in the film, along with commentary by Sacks.

Watch, and I guarantee you’ll be blown away as well!
The effect that music has on these people is jaw dropping, and truly miraculous.

On a personal note, my own parents were both afflicted with Dementia prior to their passing. I wish I’d seen this film before they were gone, as I surely would have given the technique developed by Cohen a try. That’s the only thing about this entire documentary that deeply saddens me, but overall it’s unbelievably inspirational.

You may know someone suffering from one of these terrible diseases today. It’s certainly not 100% guaranteed to work as it has in these two cases, but surely there can be no harm in the attempt. With all my heart, I wish I would have had the opportunity to do so with my Mom and Dad.

For further information, please pay the film’s web site a visit:
“Alive Inside” official web site

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