Musical Awakening

Volume 115, No. 7July, 2015

Dave Roth

It’s time for the annual iPod drive on Broadway to bring the power of music to Alzheimer’s patients

Everything has gotten too complicated these days!” That is the familiar refrain of my father. You see, he is now in his early 80s. He grew up when the Great Depression was a recent memory and when technology hadn’t begun its frantic pace yet. But these days, change happens at lightning speeds. By the time you learn about a new breakthrough, the digital gurus are already developing and releasing the latest and greatest device. To the elderly, these changes aren’t nearly as welcome as they are to their progeny. Technology can be confusing, frustrating and downright frightening – and even more so to someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

But Dan Cohen, executive director of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, sees technology as a gateway to breathe life back into those lost in the recesses of their own minds. How? By reawakening their memories. Dan is a trained social worker with a background in technology and realized there was a perfect marriage to be had with both.

“Ten years ago I heard a journalist talking about how iPods are ubiquitous,” Dan told me. “I thought, ‘Well, all the kids have them – but a lot of us adults don’t.’ My experience in visiting nursing homes didn’t show much music being done there. And if I were ever living in a nursing home myself, would I have access to my favorite 60s music? I learned that even though there were over 16,000 nursing homes in the U.S., I couldn’t find one that was using iPods for the residents.”

So Dan set out to see if this modern technology could be used in a widespread format. His work has been widely-documented in a YouTube clip that went viral, with over seven million views. The video shows Henry, an elderly man suffering from Alzheimer’s, who becomes reawakened while listening to music of his youth. This scene is part of the award-winning documentary “Alive Inside,” which follows Dan’s use of this therapy.

Dan discovered that it wasn’t just any music that was providing this therapy but specific music that related to one’s past. It was personalized music. “Music has to have personal meaning to them,” he told me, “and that’s really where you are reaching back into that part of one’s memory that is still very much intact. Our love of music is emotional and not cognitive.”

Not only was a personal iPod of music effective for the patient but it was also incredibly therapeutic for the families as they compiled the favorite music of their loved ones to make playlists.

The author and his late mother, an Alzheimer's sufferer, enjoying music together.

The author and his late mother, an Alzheimer’s sufferer, enjoying music together.

After seeing Dan’s documentary, I was personally inspired to bring my mom her favorite music as she was also in the throes of Alzheimer’s and had lost her ability to speak. My family and I were moved to tears to hear her once again singing words that we thought were lost forever. I, and so many throughout the world who were beginning to use this technology, were quickly inspired to spread the word. This is where the gift of modern technology comes into play. Through the use of iPods we are able to download a world of music on this tiny device. And in the case of the iPod shuffle, it is designed with ease of use not only for those suffering from Alzheimer’s but also for the countless caregivers. Just one click and a door to the mind suddenly opens and reconnects the patient to their own memories and also connects them once again to those they love around them.

Music & Memory has expanded its work through nursing homes all over the country. Entire state health agencies have endorsed this therapy to be used throughout all their elderly facilities. In Wisconsin, caregivers have documented a dramatic decline in the use of psychotropic drugs. Using iPods and music in this way is also inspiring grassroots efforts to raise funds and collect used iPods all over the nation. My personal experience with my mom called me to action and I formed the Broadway Alzheimer’s iPod Drive, now in its fourth year.  We have collected hundreds of used iPods and thousands of dollars, and we continue to raise awareness about this devastating disease. Brilliant minds have created a device that can help reconnect broken minds. Using iPods and music to help people in this way inspires us to find more healthy ways to care for those who deserve so much more.

See below for more information and how to donate. Local 802 member Dave Roth is a freelance percussionist and performs frequently in Broadway pits. He’s currently performing at “Finding Neverland.”


Between Aug. 1 and Aug. 19, you can bring your new or used iPod and charger directly to the Local 802 building, at 322 West 48th Street. Please bring it up to the president’s office on the fifth floor and ask for Robin Donach. Please e-mail any questions to Local 802 member Dave Roth at

You can also drop off or send your new or used iPod and charger anytime to:

Broadway Alzheimer’s iPod Drive
Alzheimer’s Association NYC Chapter
360 Lexington Ave., 4th Floor
New York, NY 10017

 For more information, or to make a monetary donation, visit these sites: or