Musical awakening

Volume 112, No. 7/8July, 2012

Dave Roth

Announcing an iPod drive on Broadway to bring the power of music to Alzheimer’s patients

My story is not unique. It is a story shared by sons and daughters, husbands and wives, past and present. After I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer’s in 1979, I was saddened and shocked to learn that both my parents are now suffering from the same illness.

Today, over 30 years have passed and the absence of progress is stunning. The threads of my story will connect more and more of us, as over 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day.

Statistics show that over 250,000 New Yorkers are struggling with the disease and at least 250,000 more have the heavy burden of caring for a family member.

But this is not simply a local story. An estimated 5.4 million Americans are currently diagnosed, and Alzheimer’s is now the sixth leading cause of death.

More importantly this disease is not limited to just the elderly, as more cases of early onset are diagnosed every day.

By 2050 as many as 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s robbing them of independence and memory.

My personal experience motivated me to get off the sidelines and try to make a difference.

I enrolled in the ambassador program with the Alzheimer’s Association. This program assigns one person to each congressional district in the country to act as a liaison between the elected official and his or her constituents regarding all topics related to Alzheimer’s.

I currently am the ambassador for the New York 14th congressional district, where Representative Carolyn Maloney serves. (This district includes most of the East Side and some of Queens.)

Through my volunteer work, I had the pleasure of viewing a first-time screening of the documentary “Alive Inside.” Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett follows the work of social worker Dan Cohen here in New York City.

Dan has been spending the better part of a decade introducing iPods into facilities that care for those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

He specifically targets music that speaks to that particular patient in an effort to recall memories and emotions from their past.

The results are absolutely astounding! Patients who are in a detached or catatonic state are awakened and move, sing and even converse about what they are experiencing through the music.

Of course, as a musician I’m not surprised by the power of the music, but seeing it first-hand is still incredibly moving and inspiring.

Through the documentary, Dan related the frustration of trying to convince these institutions to spend a minuscule amount of money on listening devices only to find they were much more inclined to spend thousands on psychotropic drugs to sedate these patients.

That really resonated with me. I knew that there was something I could do and more importantly something my community of fellow musicians and artists could do.

Therefore, I’m announcing the first annual United Broadway Artists iPod Drive for Alzheimer’s.

So many of us have old iPods sitting in drawers collecting dust at home. These are tools that can awaken people who are crying out in their own darkness.

The drive starts now and goes through Aug. 19. I chose this date to honor my parents, since it will be their 60th wedding anniversary. I have already given my mom the gift of music remembrance, and the results were remarkable.

You can send your iPod, charger and/or earphones to:

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

You can e-mail any questions to me at

And to learn more about Dan Cohen and his amazing documentary “Alive Inside,” see

Dave Roth plays percussion in the Broadway show “Evita.”