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Conversations on Dementia and a Sneek Peek of ALIVE INSIDE

How is it that music can bypass the ravages of dementia? In this series of conversations, Alzheimer's specialists draw upon the experiment documented in a rough cut of a new documentary in which neuropsychologist Oliver Sacks and others explore the channels that music courses in the brain and what it might mean for the future of Alzheimer’s treatment. 

Presented with the Alzheimer’s Association, New York City Chapter.

Learn more about the project here >>


Wednesday, April 18 -  7:00 p.m. 

Social worker Dan Cohen, whose iPod Project is featured in the film, engages with Dr. Scott Small, Professor of Neurology at Columbia University. Jed Levine, Vice President of Programs and Services at the New York City Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, will provide closing remarks.

Friday, April 20 - 6:30 p.m. 

Music Therapist Alejandro Berti engages with Dr. Ottavio Arancio, Professor of Pathology and Cell Biology in Columbia University’s Neuroscience Department.

Saturday, April 21 -  11:30 a.m. 

Dementia Care Trainer Nancy Hendley engages with Dr. Concetta Tomaino.

Saturday, April 21 -  2:30 p.m.

Dementia Care Trainer Lauren Volkmer engages with Dr. Concetta Tomaino

Saturday, April 21 -  5:30 p.m.

Alzheimer’s caregiver Rachael Bachleda engages with Dr. Peter Davies, Chair in Alzheimer’s Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Alzheimer's disease is terrifying because one loses one's memory.  5.6 million people in the U.S. are struggling with dementia and memory loss and 10 million more people are connected to them. There is no known cure and the numbers of sufferers is on the rise.  ALIVE INSIDE - a work in progress - follows Dan Cohen, a social worker who decides on a whim to bring iPods to a nursing home.  What Dan Cohen discovers by accident, and scientists have been studying for years, is that a person suffering from memory loss can seem to "awaken" when given music they have an emotional attachment to.  As Oliver Sacks explains, 'Music imprints itself on the brain deeper than any other human experience.  Music evokes emotion and emotion can bring with it memory." 

The film is witness to this reawakening of 'lost' patients.  The effect on the patient, the family, the caregiver is both touching and inspiring.   The introduction of personalized music into patient's lives seems to be able to open new vistas of experience, especially those with the least ability to interact.  The aim of this film is to encourage widespread adoption of personalized music programs in nursing homes.  The reward is enormous and the cost low.

A Message from the Filmmaker

When I saw what Dan was doing, bringing personal music to people who were lost, I was so moved I decided to make this film.  I've spent the last three years working on it and I am still not done!  It has been a mind-blowing odyssey.  It is taking me into worlds most of us hide from- the world of aging and institutional long term care.

Filming personal music effecting Elders in nursing homes has deeply effected me.  It has changed the way I think about my own relationship to music and our shared human life cycle.  It has changed my understanding of the brain and what it means to be human.  It has also opened me to great sadness and great joy.   I've seen repeatedly, the saddest thing in the world; a person who's spark has gone out and also the most beautiful thing in the world another human being awakening.

No project I have ever worked on has changed me as much as this story.  It is my hope that when it is done this film awakens people's hearts and helps make it possible to bring music to those in nursing homes, people who don't even know how deeply they need music's gifts.  

Music has great lessons to teach us about what it means to be human;  I learned this from the sweet and vulnerable souls I met making this fil, - Michael Rossato-Bennet


Presenting Sponsor




Dan Cohen is a social worker and the Executive Director of Music & Memory, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for the elderly and infirm through the use of personalized music and digital technology. In 2006, Dan had the idea of bringing iPods stocked with patients’ favorite music to long-term care facilities. Faced with an overwhelmingly positive response, Cohen expanded upon this endeavor, founding The iPod Project. The aims of The iPod Project are to support the initiation of iPod-based personalized music programs regardless of one’s location (e.g. at home, in a nursing home, assisted living facility, hospital, or hospice) and raise public awareness about the benefits of keeping engaged with a rich personal music environment regardless of physical, cognitive, or social condition.


Scott Small, M.D. is a professor of Neurology at Columbia University. He specializes in cognitive neuroscience of working memory and control and of category learning and conceptual representations. His research interests include the use of brain imaging to understand how the hippocampus functions during normal associative memory, and how the hippocampus fails during aging and Alzheimer’s disease.


Jed A. Levine is Executive Vice President and Director of Programs and Services at the New York City Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. He has been associated with the chapter for over 22 years, the past 21 of those as a staff member. He developed the wanderer’s safety program in NYC, which was one of the prototypes for the National MedicAlert + Safe Return program. Mr. Levine holds a Masters degree in Applied Human Development with a specialization in Gerontology and Community Recreation Services from Columbia University's Teachers College, and is trained as a Creative Arts Therapist. A fellow of the Brookdale Center on Aging of Hunter College, he is a frequent lecturer on Alzheimer's disease, activities, early stage programming and behavior management issues.


Alejandro Berti is a Music Therapist from Argentina and graduated with a BA in Music Therapy from Universidad del Salvador. Berti worked at Jewish Home & Hospital in Manhattan for five and a half years—in the Adult Day Care Center for one and half years, and with two long-term communities in the Recreation Therapy Department for four years. While there he worked with individuals and groups, leading sing-a-longs, music & memories, drum circles, and a gospel choir among others, adjusted the activities based on the needs of the individuals. The members of the groups were aged 60-103 with or without Alzheimer’s and other dementias, as well as people with physical disabilities.


Ottavio Arancio, M.D. is Assistant Professor of Pathology and Cell Biology in Columbia University’s Neuroscience Department. His areas of interest include Neural Degeneration and Repair, Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, Biophysics/Ion Channels, Synapses and Circuits, and he specializes in molecular and cellular mechanisms of synaptic dysfunction leading to memory loss.


Nancy Hendley has a MFA and worked as a Dementia Care Trainer at the Alzheimer’s Association, New York City Chapter for the past 6 years. Previously, she acted as Director of the Social Adult Day program at Sunnyside Community Services and directed the Adult Day Program for HANAC in Astoria Queens.


Dr. Concetta Tomaino is the Executive Director and co-founder of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function and Senior Vice President for Music Therapy at Beth Abraham Family of Health Services, where she has worked since 1980.   She graduated from SUNY at Stony Brook with a BA in Music Performance in 1976 (her instrument is the trumpet), a minor in psychology and sciences, and a commitment to the emerging field of music therapy. She received the Masters and Doctor of Arts in Music Therapy from New York University.


Lauren Volkmer is a Dementia Care Trainer at the Alzheimer’s Association, New York City Chapter. Lauren leads monthly 10-hour trainings for family caregivers of individuals with dementia. She has been working with individuals with dementia for over 7 years and holds a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University. Prior to coming to the Alzheimer’s Association, she was a social worker at the West 74th Street Residence, an adult home for frail older adults in Manhattan.


Rachael Bachleda’s mother, Mary Lou, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2007, at age 61, though she was showing symptoms as early as 56. Rachael first came to the Alzheimer’s Association NYC Chapter in 2007 seeking assistance in finding a doctor for her mother. Rachael and her family came to rely on the chapter for its varied services, including helping the family understand the diagnosis and helping to manage through the difficult phases and evolution of the disease. Rachael is a member of the Chapter’s Junior Committee where she has been active in outreach efforts and Alzheimer’s advocacy initiatives. She is an avid runner and has twice joined the Junior Committee’s NYC Marathon Team where she was one of the leading fundraisers.  Rachael lives in Manhattan, works in the finance industry and is a proud mother of a three year old son and a three month old daughter. 


Peter Davies received a B.Sc. and Ph.D., both in Biochemistry from the University of Leeds, England. He joined the staff of the Medical Research Council Unit in Edinburgh in 1974, where he began his research on Alzheimer’s disease. In 1977 he moved to Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, where he is a Professor in the Departments of Pathology and Neuroscience. He holds the Judith and Burton P. Resnick Chair of Research on Alzheimer’s Disease. Dr. Davies became the Director of the Litwin/Zucker Center for Research on Alzheimer’s disease at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, North Shore/LIJ in 2006.