Social worker Dan Cohen

Music helps to unlock dementia

The audience favourite at the Sundance Film Festival, Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory comes to Vernon on Nov. 10

Morning Star Staff

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are a reality for an increasing number of people. According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, a staggering 747,000 people suffer from some form of dementia, and this number is expected to double in 20 years.

“At NexusBC, we see the reality faced by families caring for someone with a dementia,” said coordinator Lee Brinkman, “which is why we wanted to bring the inspiring and uplifting film Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory to Vernon.

Brinkman, whose father suffered from Alzheimer’s when she was young, knows first-hand about dementia.

“In my opinion, Alzheimer’s is one of the worst diseases,” she said. “Over time, it slowly robs someone of everyone and everything that is familiar. It’s very painful to watch.”

The film Alive Inside is a non-medical story of awakening those with dementia. The film follows social worker Dan Cohen, who discovers that a patient’s favourite songs are intact in a part of the brain that is still alive when all other communication and awareness seem irretrievably lost. Armed with headphones and music players, Cohen demonstrates, to the surprise of families and caregivers, how patients locked in silence and lost in the maze of dementia seem to find some memories and feelings when they hear the music they love.

“It’s not a cure,” said Cohen, “but it is something just about anyone can try —something that might open up a whole lost world.”

In a YouTube video, neurologist Oliver Sacks explains that musical memories can withstand the ravages of Alzheimer’s.

“In a severe dementia one may have lost the power of language, and most of one’s event memories, but one always remembers songs they have heard and sung, and familiar music,” he said.

Sacks explains that parts of the brain that respond to music are very close to the parts of the brain that are concerned with memory and with emotional mood.

“One doesn’t have to be especially musical to respond to music, to recognize music, to react to music, emotionally —everyone does and they will continue to do so despite a severe dementia.”

The film has received positive response from critics, and won the Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

“We are so pleased to bring this film to Vernon,” said Brinkman, “and we couldn’t have done it without support from Rockwell Audiology.”

Tosha Hodgson, an audiologist for more than 18 years and owner of Rockwell Audiology in Vernon, said partnering with NexusBC on this project will help to  will raise awareness for hearing loss and dementia.

“Recent studies at Johns Hopkins and the National Institute of Aging have been finding links between hearing loss and dementia,” she said. “The findings add to a growing list of health consequences associated with hearing loss, including risk of falling, hospitalizations, and declines in psychosocial, cognitive, and functional outcomes, all of which burden our health care system.

“Hearing loss has not been determined to cause dementia, but studies are raising the possibility that treating hearing loss might help deter onset of cognitive decline.

“Music is simple, non-invasive, and does not require communication abilities to enjoy it. Played at safe listening levels, music can be enjoyed by nearly anyone, if even for just a moment,.”

Brinkman recalls how her father reacted to music.

“When we played one of his favourite records, he always relaxed and often closed his eyes. Even when he went to live in a care home, we transferred all his favourite records to tapes, and kept playing them. Somewhere inside, I know he enjoyed it.”

The film’s message is one of hope and determination, and everyone is encouraged to attend.

“Whether you are a family member caring for someone with a dementia or cognitive impairment, a healthcare professional, music lover or just seeking inspiration, you will be moved to tears,” said Brinkman, adding that the Alzheimer Society of BC will also be in attendance with an information table at the event.

Alive Inside will be shown Monday at the Towne Theatre, with two showings: 5:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. Tickets are $5 and available at NexusBC, the Bean Scene and the theatre. For more information, visit www.nexusbc.ca

 

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