Tie Between Memory and Music Strikes a Universal Chord

Is someone you know among the approximately 5.2 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia? How do you connect with them as intellectual ability and daily functioning decline? The well-documented and universal tie between memory and music presents one solution.

As one of seventeen pilot sites chosen nationwide, United Methodist Commuainities at Francis Asbury partnered with the Alive Inside Foundation and paired students from the Lakehouse Music Academy with their Memory Support residents. Their proximity in Ocean Grove and Asbury Park encouraged a natural fit.

The Alive Inside Foundation, founded by New York City film maker Michael Rossato-Bennett, was named after his award winning documentary, Alive Inside, which won the Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Locally, Fran Pannella, founder of Dementia Living Solutions; Pamela Flores, a teacher at Lakehouse; and Meg Cox-Gerth, volunteer coordinator at Francis Asbury; led the project.

In the autumn of 2015 the students received dementia education, taught by Pannella. The educational journey involved investigations of aging, embodied being, human connection, self-reflection, empathy, dementia awareness, understanding of love and communication, and the workings of the brain and hormonal systems. At times, the experiential curriculum asked youth to “walk a mile in the shoes” of their elders and to both give and receive.

This year, from the spring through the fall, the leaders and eight enthusiastic students adopted Francis Asbury residents and connected through music. In keeping with the Alive Inside Foundation’s dedication to expanding human connection and cultivating empathy through education, music and film, the group created meaningful shared experiences. Many parents chose to accompany their children and actively participated in the Intergenerational Human Service Learning Project through repeat visits.

The encounters also fulfilled the foundation’s goal to bring the generations together, awaken memories, wisdom and aliveness. A crew periodically filmed the interactions at Francis Asbury. A clip can be viewed at on YouTube. As evidenced by the footage, it proved to be a transformational and experiential educational outreach.

The culmination of the project is an event at the House of Independents in Asbury Park on Thursday, October 20 at 7pm. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Rossato-Bennett will speak and participate in a short Q&A, Lakehouse Music Academy students will share their talents; both the original Alive Inside film and footage of the students with the residents will be shown. United Methodist Communities HomeWorks, based in Ocean Grove, is a Silver Sponsor.

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