The correlation between music and the brain has been well-documented, and for the last year it's served as a learning experience for teenage students of the Lakehouse Music Academy in Asbury Park. They've been working with "adopted" elders suffering from various stages of dementia and trying to enhance their lives with music.

Elderly man and woman listening to music
Steen Wackerhausen, ThinkStock

Last spring, a group of Lakehouse's students viewed the film "Alive Inside," which details the relationship of music to the human brain. One of the academy's teachers, who had previously seen the film and had used music as a kind of therapy for her late grandmother, launched an outreach program with the kids soon after.

"We decided we'd get them to learn some old music and reach out to area elder groups, nursing homes, etc., and do some performances for them," said Fran Pannella, a volunteer with the Alive Inside Foundation. She also played a central role in bringing the film to the students.

Pannella calls the film, which will be screened again at a fundraiser later this month, "life-changing" in its portrayal of the effects of music on the elderly.

"The right music can connect them to who they are deep inside," she said.

Pannella tells the story of an elderly woman named Maria, who was a sixth-grade teacher earlier in life but whose dementia has now progressed to a virtually non-verbal stage. Through the pilot program developed by the Alive Inside Foundation, using Lakehouse's students, she was matched with a sixth-grader named Luke, and as she listened to the songs of her youth, she began to talk and sing with the boy. Pannella said the looks on both of their faces demonstrated how powerful the marriage of mind and music can be.

Another student in the program developed such a strong connection that she made one last trip to see her elder before heading off to college earlier this fall. She is studying to become a music therapist.

"Kids connect so much to music, they understand it," Pannella said, adding that distributing headsets like the one Maria used, to seniors all across the country, is a main component of her foundation's mission. "To give back someone's music and to connect them to their life, for these kids -- it can change the world."

The fundraiser, which takes place Thursday, Oct. 20 at House of Independents in Asbury Park, will not only feature the screening of "Alive Inside" along with a Q&A by filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett, but also the performance of at least one original song written by a Lakehouse student about her experiences.

Tickets are $15 online ( and $20 at the door; all proceeds go to the Alive Inside Foundation.

"Alive Inside" won the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award for U.S. Documentary.

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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