Don’t Think Twice: A Poignant Film Documents How Bob Dylan & The Beatles Bring Joy to a Dementia Patient

It’s often said the sense of smell is most close­ly con­nect­ed to long-term mem­o­ry. The news offers lit­tle com­fort to us for­get­ful peo­ple with a dimin­ished sense of smell. But increas­ing­ly, neu­ro­sci­en­tists are dis­cov­er­ing how sound can also tap direct­ly into our deep­est mem­o­ries. Patients with Alzheimer’s and demen­tia seem to come alive, becom­ing their old selves when they hear music they rec­og­nize, espe­cial­ly if they were musi­cians or dancers in a for­mer life.

“Sound is evo­lu­tion­ar­i­ly ancient,” Nina Kraus, a neu­ro­sci­en­tist at North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty, tells NPR. “It is deeply, deeply root­ed in our ner­vous sys­tem. So the mem­o­ries that we make, the sound-to-mean­ing con­nec­tions that we have and that we’ve made through­out our lives are always there. And it’s a mat­ter of being able to access them.” The ear­worms we find our­selves hum­ming all day; the songs we nev­er for­get how to sing… these are keys to a store­house of mem­o­ry.

Sto­ries doc­u­ment­ing demen­tia patients in the pres­ence of music usu­al­ly focus, under­stand­ably, on those who have lost brain func­tion due to old age. In “Don’t Think Twice,” the short doc­u­men­tary above, we meet John Fudge, who sus­tained a trau­mat­ic brain injury when he fell from the white cliffs of Dover and split his head open at 24 years old. “The extent of his injuries weren’t revealed,” writes Aeon, “until decades lat­er, when doc­tors decid­ed to per­form a brain scan after John slipped into a deep depres­sion.”

He was found to have exten­sive brain dam­age, “includ­ing a pro­gres­sive form of demen­tia” called Seman­tic Demen­tia that leaves suf­fer­ers aware of their dete­ri­o­ra­tion while being unable to express them­selves. John’s wife Geral­dine “com­pares his brain to an oak tree, its limbs of knowl­edge being slow­ly trimmed away, caus­ing John great men­tal anguish.” In the short film, how­ev­er, we see how “his musi­cal abil­i­ties” are one “as-yet untrimmed branch.”

John him­self explains how he “near­ly died three times” and Geral­dine assists with her obser­va­tions of his expe­ri­ence. “It’s all there,” she says, “it’s just bits of it have sort of been blanked out…. Over the years, John’s seman­tic under­stand­ing of the world will dete­ri­o­rate.” When a young vol­un­teer named Jon from the Hack­ney Befriend­ing Ser­vice stops by, the gloom lifts as John engages his old pas­sion for play­ing songs by the Bea­t­les and Bob Dylan.

Fol­low the mov­ing sto­ry of how John and Jon became fast friends and excel­lent har­mo­niz­ers and see more inspir­ing sto­ries of how music can change Alzheimer’s and demen­tia patients’ lives for the bet­ter at the links below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Music Can Awak­en Patients with Alzheimer’s and Demen­tia

Demen­tia Patients Find Some Eter­nal Youth in the Sounds of AC/DC

For­mer Bal­le­ri­na with Demen­tia Grace­ful­ly Comes Alive to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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