Dan Cohen


When the producers of an amazing new documentary called “Alive Inside” loaded a clip from their film to YouTube, they weren’t prepared for the response. It quickly attracted more than 6 million views and stunned viewers with its heart-warming video of an elderly man with dementia coming alive when the music of his youth is played for him. 

“Alive Inside” profiles seven elderly people suffering from dementia and shows the transformation that occurs when they’re given iPods loaded with their favorite songs from years ago. 

Dan Cohen is the Executive Director of Music and Memory, the iPod Project, and he started it in 2006 when he was a social worker. He says it occurred to him to reach out to long-term facilities and ask who was using iPods. He discovered none were. Music is such an integral part of recreation in nursing homes but given limited resources in this country, long-term care facilities are forced to focus on group activities rather than individual interests, Dan says. 

He launched this project to get iPods into nursing homes because he realized if he himself was in one, he’d want to hear the music that appealed specifically to him, not the entire group. 

And he was amazed by the reaction from the patients. 

He explains how music is able to tap into people’s long-term memories. Even those people who no longer recognize their families suddenly become talkative and animated when they listen to the songs they listened to when they were young. He says no matter how ravaged someone’s brain is by Alzheimer’s or dementia, many people respond to the music because what we listen to in our youth gets so heavily imprinted on our brains. 

Dan reveals some of the unexpected, positive effects the music has had on the patients and their relationships with caregivers. He explains how it helps common issues like anxiety and agitation — for both the patients and the caregivers.

And in a country where half the number of people in nursing homes have no visitors, Dan explains how music helps with interaction and actually makes them more social. 

To learn more about the Music and Memory project, including how to make a donation and to watch the clip of Henry described in this interview, visit musicandmemory.org.