Alive Inside: Music improves lives of Alzheimer's patients

Henry in 'Alive Inside'
A screenshot from the 'Alive Inside' documentary about music and memory loss. Henry is listening to an iPod playlist of his favorite music.

Social worker Dan Cohen had been struggling with finding ways to reach Alzheimer's patients in the nursing homes he visited, often encountering patients that were immobile and unresponsive. Last year he decided to try bringing iPods into nursing homes and creating personalized playlists for patients. The positive response from patients was overwhelming: patients interacted more, responded more and remembered forgotten memories.

"Think about how you use music, it can often be to motivate yourself," Cohen said. "If you're running or exercising, you go further with music. Without it that routine can get boring. The music changes how you function. When Alzheimer's patients have their own music they talk more, they're more active; if they're depressed they're happier."

On The Daily Circuit Thursday, we look at Cohen's work and examine how music effects our brain and its link to memories and even better physical health. Cohen will join us along with Daniel Levitin, professor of psychology, behavioral neuroscience and music at McGill University.

"People would tell me that you don't have to give Alzheimer's patients more than 5 songs because they'll forget them," Cohen said. "There's some truth to that but what I've found is that when all of the songs are familiar - your memories of music are collocated with autobiographic memory - you're firing up a memory with beach or first date or whatever. Those five songs equal five memories so we want to do more and more songs with the hope of reaching more and more memories."

VIDEO: Man in nursing home reacts to hearing music from his era

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