Alive Inside Dead Outside: Cultural implications of the documentary Alive Inside on Dementia Care


This article reflects on the cultural discourse of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) that has rooted the disease in numerous metaphors preserving the unknown aspects of AD and supporting its status as a ‘social death’. Through engagement with Michael Rossato-Bennett’s documentary film, Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory , a number of scenes from the film are discussed. Through qualitative discourse analysis, we challenge the cultural discourse of AD highlighted throughout Alive Inside , and outline some cautions on the iPod project for persons with AD, in particular isolation caused by using headphones to engage with the music. While there are numerous benefits in music listening for persons across the lifespan; for an individual with AD it is important for a healthcare professional or caregiver to monitor the listening experience, and to consider sharing the music with them via speakers. This is a responsible and effective way of including music in the overall care plan for an individual with AD. Further, the benefits of music experiences can be more fully realized in many cases when they are implemented by a credentialed music therapist in working with vulnerable populations.

Behind the scenes of the writing & publishing process:

In November 2016 I sat down to write a seminar paper for a course in Music Therapy taught by Dr. Amy Clements-Cortes at the University of Toronto's Department of Music. I was writing about the cultural implications of "Alive Inside” - a film that tells a story of a social worker who ventures to bring music to people living in long term care. Coming from a family of musicians and artists, doctors and engineers, I saw the venture as a useful and exciting one. But there was one major aspect of this beautiful project that I couldn’t connect with: The social worker would bring iPods to the residents of a nursing home and leave it at that. I felt that this act contributed to the injustices of substituting human connection with a technological one.

This became the subject matter of the seminar paper that I ended up presenting at Dr. Clements-Cortes' course on Music in Health Care.

Some time later Dr. Clements-Cortes reached out to me and offered that we publish the seminar paper as an article.

I agreed even though at this stage I was half-way out of my PhD program and already struggling with severe symptoms of cPTSD that have erupted following my mom’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2014 and her decent into a comatose state.

In August 2019 our article “Alive inside, dead outside: Cultural implications of the documentary 'Alive Inside'" was published in Interactions: Studies in Communication & Culture (ISCC) 10.1&2.

To read the full article click here


Clements-Cortes, A. and Futerman, L. (2019), ‘Alive inside, dead outside: Cultural implications of the documentary Alive Inside’, Interactions: Studies in Communication & Culture, 10:1&2, pp. 39–51, doi: 10.1386/ iscc.10.1-2.39_1


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liza futerman

Liza Futerman

My lifelong goal is to spread awareness about the intricacies of our nervous systems, emphasizing the importance of tuning into our bodies as a pathway to enhancing resilience both on an individual level and within our communities.

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