Everyone has a song that will instantly transform their mood or suddenly bring them back to that summer. Its healing power well-established, music is used to address physical and mental issues across the spectrum, but only recently has it become a viable therapy for patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association has found that someone is diagnosed every 67 seconds in the U.S., making successful treatment options vitally important.

New York-based social worker Dan Cohen discovered an amazing, inexpensive, transformative solution for patients with an often crippling inability to relate or interact: iPods. By providing patients with the music they love, grew up with and cherish, the results are astounding. Noted neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, MD, described it as if they were being “brought to life.”

Cohen’s journey of discovery and subsequent mission to make music a standard of care in the 16,000 U.S. nursing homes is documented in the film Alive Inside. Winner of the 2014 Audience Award at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, the movie illustrates Cohen’s starkly simple use of music with stunning results.

Nearly 20% of dementia patients are prescribed powerful medication, typically antipsychotics, but Cohen’s therapies challenge this norm. In a recent study of Wisconsin long-term care facilities, antipsychotic use was markedly reduced within one year of adopting music treatment. New York, Utah and Idaho are other states echoing these findings, says Cohen.

He explains that facilities can typically expect a 50 percent antipsychotic reduction within only four months of using music as a tool. He is proud to cite a survey showing 83 percent of caregiver respondents “would favor a nursing home that offered residents iPods with individualized playlists” with 50 percent willing to move and/or pay more for such services.

This use of music in care, he explains, is “statistically significant in reducing caregiver stress” and a simple way to sum up his mission: actions can people take.

Alive Inside has an active Facebook presence and website full of clips and information. Cohen also began the non-profit Music & Memory with links to publications, research, volunteer opportunities, and even a ‘Give an iPod’ button if you’re updating to newer tech.

Studies show that by 2050, Alzheimer’s rates could triple to more than 15 million cases. While medication addresses many of our physical issues, music therapies could become a simpler, more effective tool in caring for our loved ones. Alive Inside closes with the poignant solution: “All we have to do is ask, ‘What’s your favorite song?’”


  1. Alzheimer’s Association 
  2. Alive Inside
  3. Wisconsin Music & Memory Program
  4. SoftwareAdvice.com
  5. MusicAndMemory.org