Watch Music Bring Back Memories for Alzheimer's Patients

How songs can help people whose minds are deteriorating.

One day in 2006, New York social worker Dan Cohen realized that with today's devices, all of his favorite music—he's a fan of '60s rock—is at his fingertips, but he might no longer be able to listen to it if he winds up in a nursing home when he's older. When he called around to local assisted-living facilities, he found that none of them provided personal music players to their residents.

So, he began giving them iPods. Eventually, his project became Music & Memory, a nonprofit that helps seniors living in nursing homes get access to the songs of their youth. 

The man in this video is Henry, one of the nonprofit's beneficiaries. With advanced Alzheimer's, he can't recognize his daughter and barely speaks.

He's "inert, maybe depressed, non responsive" neurologist Oliver Sacks says in the clip. 

But after listening to an iPod loaded with songs by Cab Calloway, he comes to life, singing along and saying he's filled with "love and romance."

This isn't a treatment, per se—these people may never get permanently better. The goal is simply to connect them with a part of their past that still burns bright, even the world around them becomes increasingly dim.

"The music from their youth is still preserved, and that awakens them," Cohen said. "You're bypassing the failed short-term cognition, but their emotional state is still there."

The clip above is from the documentary Alive Inside, a story inspired by Cohen's work, which premiers at the Sundance Film Festival tomorrow.

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Olga Khazan is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers health.

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