ALIVE Inside Documentary Highlights Power of Music and Memory
It was a man named Henry, confined to a wheelchair, slumping and inactive that changed Michael Rossato-Bennett’s life, and in turn the lives of many others.
The Beginning of a Journey
Rossato-Bennett was a self-described “dead broke filmmaker” who secured a freelance job making a video website showcasing the efforts of Dan Cohen, founder of Music & Memory, a nonprofit offering music streamed through iPods to help people with Alzheimer's or other dementias reconnect with themselves and to other people and places.
When Rossato-Bennett walked into a nursing home, he saw 100 residents in wheelchairs pushed up against the wall, not talking or moving. He had the urge to quit the assignment right then, but when he filmed Cohen placing earphones on Henry’s ears that gently piped in music from Henry’s youth – Cab Calloway, gospel music and other tunes – “I saw a human being percolate and come back to life,” said Rossato-Bennett. “It blew me away, and I had tears in my eyes.” Then the previously quiet Henry, a former dancer and singer, started talking when the headphones were removed. His mind had revived.
Seeing Henry, Rossato-Bennett had an epiphany: “At the time, I thought we had a cure for Alzheimer’s but now I know of course that’s not true. It was an instantaneous decision for me. I looked out into the hallway and saw these people and I looked at Henry. I’m not a young man. I knew this was it for me. This is the moment that I get to do something for the world. It’s in my power to tell this story.”
That event that was penciled in as temporary freelance job spurred Rossato-Bennett into following Cohen for three years to film many stories of the power of music and memory. They created the documentary ALIVE Inside currently in movie theaters around the country. The film will be available in October on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon.com, iFilms and writer/director/producer Rossato-Bennett is hoping for PBS distribution as well. He told the audience after a film screening in Washington, DC, that he’d love to have the ear of first lady Michelle Obama on the issue, thanks to her focus on healthy living.
Improving the Lives of Seniors with Dementia
Music & Memory participant and Dr. Bill Thomas in ALIVE INSIDE. Photo courtesy of BOND/360.
The project has helped place iPods and other listening devices from two nursing homes to more than 650. Rossato-Bennett believes as the spotlight shines on the Music & Memory initiative, “we are going to give personalized music to one million people in the next year or two.” He also said American singer songwriter Harry Belafonte, 92, has agreed to help the initiative.
“I believe that personalized music is the simplest, least expensive and most effective way to hold the possibility of connection between people,” Rossato-Bennett said. “It’s the perfect tool for person-centered care…and this personal music does so much more than any drug does in its inherent capacity to create connections between the outside world, caregivers, residents and their own souls. It’s wonderful.”
Rossato-Bennett also believes that bringing music into long-term care communities should be covered by Medicaid and in the long run, “we can save hundreds of billions of dollars” as studies have shown music can reduce the need for anti-psychotic drugs, which have powerful side effects. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid has set national goals to reduce their use in nursing homes by focusing on enhanced caregiver training and seniors' needs.
“I’m in love with the people who care for these elders. …They are some of the most phenomenal souls that we have. …The connection that we’ve seen between care givers and residents is the biggest win in this whole thing,” Rossato-Bennett said. “Through this project we can create a cultural movement. This very simple idea of using music to return a sense of self to institutional living.’
To see where award-winning ALIVE Inside is playing, go to the film website www.aliveinside.us. Separately, Music & Memory is seeking donations of gently used iPods. To bring the Music & Memory program to a senior living community, more information is available about its certification program for caregiver training at the Music & Memory website.