Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease rob individuals of the essence of their personalities, with devastating consequences for the stricken individuals and for all who love them. But does it have to?
The second-to-last time I saw Granny she was in a wheelchair still, in the apartment wing of the “rest home”, on a waiting list for a spot in the nursing wing. My mom, a nurse, ministered to all her physical needs. Granny didn’t know her anymore and seemed to be ‘gone’. But those blue eyes… as I looked into them I wondered with my undergrad degree in psychology, what if she is not gone. She locked eyes on me. I’m not sure why but I threw a “Nerf” ball at her, and damn – she could have been at first base the way that arm flew up and caught it. Reflex? I believed that she was ‘still in there”. But I lived far away and wouldn’t be able to test my theory.
The final time I saw her, so frail and tiny in her hospital bed, chin sharp in the absence of dentures, nose pointy, hair white and gray, I thought, what if there is more in there? As I sat by her side, holding her hand, as she lay in a fetal position, we locked eyes for a final time, my blue eyes a reflection of hers. I said “Granny, I will always remember you for the wonderful beautiful woman that you are.” A tear rolled down her cheek. I believe she heard me. I never saw her again.
Tonight I attended the first Canadian performance of Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory, a Sundance Film Festival award-winning documentary by social worker Dan Cohen captured on film and directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett. The first of three showings at 6:30 p.m. this evening was sold out. It covers a three year period where Dan and Michael documented the incredible effect of putting iPods and headphones with personalized music selections based on individual histories into the hands of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. The results were astounding as patient after patient came alive, swaying to the music, singing, crying, laughing, some dancing. And the joy in those who witnessed it was viral. You can’t watch this movie and not want to go out and deliver this experience to every person that might benefit from it. While the music was delivered through headphones it did not preclude engagement with others, in fact the intensity of the private music connection seemed to facilitate communication with others.
Music seems to access a part of the neural networks that is the first to develop and the last to be lost, not so much affected by the diseases of aging. And there were stories too of families discovering the value of music and how it might delay some of the symptoms, allowing them to keep their loved ones at home, engaging, loving, being a valuable part of the family and the community. If I had only known, maybe an old Finnish folk tune would have helped Granny.
Filmaker and producer Michael Rossato-Bennett and Mr. Hardy (whose wife Nell has lived at home for ten years on a steady diet of music, avoiding going to a nursing home)
This film has only played at Sundance, and tonight and tomorrow at Hot Docs / Doc Soup in Toronto. I’m sure the other two performances will be sold out too.
Mr. Rossato-Bennet and Mr. Hardy, as well as many fans and supporters need to raise $200k for the Canadian distribution of the film beginning in July.
Let’s bring the film to Canadian audiences. This is not just a film it is a social movement. For more info see aliveinsidemovie.com
and click here to make your donation to the project now.
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Last updated April 4, 2014 8:23 p.m.