I stumbled today upon the story of Henry Dryer, a 92-year-old dementia patient who lights up after hearing songs from his youth. Music seems to jog the memory in a special way, which allows caretakers to create personalized iPod playlists for Alzheimer patients.
You can watch a clip from the documentary Alive Inside below. Oliver Sacks makes an appearance; Sacks wrote a book about the connection between neuroscience and music just a few years ago.
The remarkable part comes when Henry's caretaker removes his headphones, and Henry remains aware enough to speak briefly about how music affects him. He mentions his favorite singer: Cab Calloway. Between thoughts, he begins to sing Calloway's scat; it's a sweet moment to witness.
Henry's story reminded me also of Floyd Skloot's The Melody Lingers On --published in the Southwest Review back in 2002 --about Skloot's mother who remembers little except for the old melodies she joyfully hums to her son. If you can track down a copy, I highly recommend it.
Alive Inside premiered today in New York City, and it will continue showing through this weekend. If you're in the area, it seems worth checking out.