Jewish Journal

Reawakening Through the Power of Music

by Lia Mandelbaum

October 19, 2013 | 6:02 pm

About a year ago, I stumbled upon a clip from a documentary film called “Alive Inside,” which is a story about how Dan Cohen, a social worker, brings iPods to a nursing home for the patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, to see the impact that music has on those with memory loss.  To his and the staff’s surprise many of the residents seem to “awaken” when they are able to listen to music from their past.  The renowned neurologist and author, Dr. Oliver Sacks, also got involved with the project.  They all worked together to investigate the mysterious way music functions inside our brains and our lives.

The clip was about a man Henry, who has been in the nursing home for about 10 years, and as Dr. Sacks said, he is inert, maybe depressed, unresponsive and almost unalive, and can’t remember his daughter who frequently visits him.  When given an iPod containing his favorite music, Henry immediately lights up.  His face exudes expression, his eyes open wide, he starts to sing, and rock in his wheelchair and is animated by the music.  When the music was removed from his ears, the affects were lasting.  Henry continued to beam, as he talked about his past, and began singing songs by his favorite musician, Cab Calloway.  The music helped Henry to remember who he is and reawaken him.

Please click {HERE} to watch the incredibly moving clip from Alive Inside.


Photos are before and after Henry listens to the music...

Earlier in the year, my grandmother had almost passed away and although she survived her kidney failure, she was not the same person.  When I went to visit her for the first time, it was as if she had forgotten who she was, and I saw death in her eyes.  This was incredibly tough for me because we have always been very close.

One day I remembered the video clip from “Alive Inside,” and decided to put together a mix of her favorite music, which included Beethoven, Barbara Streisand, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong.  When I put the music on for her she started singing, and reminiscing, and waving her hands to the music.  She had been reluctant to go outside, but that day she asked me to take her to sit outside by the lake.  As I kept playing music for her on my iPod, she continued to keep singing, was waving her hands and had a big smile on her face...   I felt like I had my grandmother back.  During that time she had clearly remembered who she was and reawakened.

I just started graduate school to get my master’s in social work, and have decided that I want to do my thesis statement on the impact of music of those suffering with memory loss.  It is clear to me that the power of music is phenomenal. 

If you know of someone dealing with these issues, I highly suggest that you find out their favorite songs and put a music list together, and sit back and watch the mind blowing ability that music has to reawaken them.

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Lia Mandelbaum is known for her advocacy, passion, creativity, and empathy, and is fiercely driven to make a difference.  She is especially passionate about impacting our...

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