Thanks for the memories: How nostalgia radio helps dementia residents

Silver Memories radio improving lives of aged care residents with dementia


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THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: Listening to nostalgia radio can help reduce some symptoms of dementia in aged care home residents, according to a new study.

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: Listening to nostalgia radio can help reduce some symptoms of dementia in aged care home residents, according to a new study.

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Get with the program: How radio is helping dementia residents.

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FORGET NETFLIX and TV, gathering round the wireless to tune into the evening radio show was a common form of home entertainment in the 1920s to 50s.

And for many senior Australians, tuning into 'old-time' radio is still bringing joy to many people living with dementia. 

Silver Memories broadcasts a nostalgia radio show - with regular announcers, music, comedies and serials from the 1920s to the 70s - into 120 aged care homes across Australia.

Now new government-funded research has found listening to nostalgic radio broadcasts can help reduce negative symptoms and improve the lives of older Australians living with dementia in aged care homes.

The Silver Memories radio service conducted the $150,000 12-month trial of their nostalgic music broadcasts across 16 residential aged care homes.

MAKING WAVES: Silver Memories announcer Peter White at work in the Brisbane studio. Photo: John Carrier.

MAKING WAVES: Silver Memories announcer Peter White at work in the Brisbane studio. Photo: John Carrier.

The research, overseen by Dr Catherine Travers from the Dementia Collaborative Research Centre at Queensland University, found that regular listening to Silver Memories results in improved quality of life and reduced depression, agitation and aggression.

A total of 74 residents from 16 aged care facilities across metropolitan and regional centres in New South Wales and Queensland took part in the research program.

Silver Memories general manager Gary Thorpe said this is the first study to specifically examine the effects of Silver Memories on agitation and aggressive behaviour in residents with dementia.

"The results of this evaluation of the longer-term impact of Silver Memories on the lives of people living with dementia in aged care facilities, overwhelmingly indicate that the service makes a real difference to their quality of life."

Mr Thorpe, who recently travelled to North America and Europe on a Churchill Fellowship to study the role of music on dementia, said the impact of music "is magical".

It's a harmless, non-pharmalogical way to manage the symptoms of dementia. Music is one of the few things that registers on multiple sites in the brain.

"The effect is overwhelmingly positive, especially when a resident first moves in to an aged care facility. They can't bring much from home, but they can bring the music which is familiar. It helps them settle in to their environment."

He said many listeners say they like the fact there is no advertising, and people can tune in to their favourite programs and announcers, with live programming from 7am to 1pm and recorded programming for the rest of the day.

TUNING IN: Residents at Anglicare Symes Thorpe in Toowoomba listen to Silver Memories through the TV. Photo: Russell Shakespeare.

TUNING IN: Residents at Anglicare Symes Thorpe in Toowoomba listen to Silver Memories through the TV. Photo: Russell Shakespeare.

"We listen to feedback. Many of our regional listeners wanted more country music so we now include a half-hour country music program," he said.

"And we heard many older residents used to get dressed on a Sunday and go to church - it was a part of their life. Now they can't do that, so we introduced two programs of popular hymns."

They have also recently introduced a service where photos of calming scenes and regional photos can be played on residents' TV screens, using a USB stick.

In some cases, listening to music from another era evokes a physical as well as emotional response in residents.

Musical tastes tend to be established in the late teens and early 20s. When I started we were playing music from the 1920s to the 50s, now it's moved to the 70s. When I get to hip-hop and rap I'm out of here! - Gary Thorpe, Silver Memories radio

"We heard about one lady in central Queensland who sat in a corner most of the time on her walker. Then one day she just stood up and started shuffling along when our afternoon dance segment came on.

"It turned out she was a champion ballroom dancer, which nobody knew, and after six weeks dancing she had gained so much strength in her legs and confidence she barely needed her walker."

Mr Thorpe said the musical programming is always changing. "Musical tastes tend to be established in the late teens and early 20s. When I started this 12 years ago we were playing music from the 1920s to the 50s. Now it's moved to include the 70s.

"When I get to hip-hop and rap I'm out of here I tell you!"

The not-for-profit is currently planning another study, based on similar overseas research, into the best music to play at mealtimes to encourage people to eat.

"Top priority"

Federal aged care minister Ken Wyatt said the research highlights the potential of musical reminiscence therapy in reducing negative symptoms and improving the lives of older Australians living with dementia.

He said therapies that focus on wellbeing and quality of life must be given "top priority", as the government moves to regulate and minimise the use of restraint in the aged care sector.

"Every one of the 74 residents who participated showed significant improvements in quality of life as well as reductions in depression, agitation and physical aggression," said Mr Wyatt.

"This demonstrates the positive and sometimes profound effects of music in helping manage dementia."

More than 436,000 people are currently living with dementia in Australia, and around 250 Australians develop dementia every day.

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