This article by Bev Hadgraft appeared in The Sunday Telegraph, November 12, 2016
Photo: Gary Thorpe chats music and memories with (from left) Chris Murphy, Pam Ewald, Joy Boon, Anne Fielder and Gwen Lloyd at the Zion Lutheran Aged Care facility in Nundah, Brisbane.
TEN years ago Gary Thorpe’s neighbour Jean had a stroke. She ended up in aged care and he’d go to visit her every weekend.
“There was nothing there to interest her,” he recalls. “She didn’t like bingo and wasn’t a fan of TV.”
One weekend Gary went to visit and found her parked in front of a sports program. She’d been there three interminable hours, unable to move – and she hated sport.
Gary Thorpe chats music and memories with (from left) Chris Murphy, Pam Ewald, Joy Boon, Anne Fielder and Gwen Lloyd at the Zion Lutheran Aged Care facility in Nundah, Brisbane.After around four months, Gary noticed Jean was disengaging. Distressed, he decided: ‘I’ve got to do something for people like Jean.’
Gary, now 66, is general manager of a community radio station in Brisbane. One thing that did seem to light Jean up, he noticed, was talking about her courting days in the ’30s and ’40s and the music that had accompanied them.
He decided to set up a radio station specifically aimed at elderly people in nursing homes, playing music and sharing memories from their youth.
The idea was to lift their mood and stop them feeling lonely and socially isolated – factors which are thought to increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“They can reminisce and that’s the basis of the whole format.”
He called the station Silver Memories, and since it started in 2007, the response has been extraordinary.
One woman hadn’t spoken for five years but when Silver Memories was switched on, she suddenly announced, “I remember this song.”
“She frightened the life out of the staff member in her room. They’d practically given up talking to her,” Gary laughs.
A grateful husband sent Gary a large cheque and a note thanking him for giving him back his wife and his life. She had Alzheimer’s and barely even recognised him anymore. Silver Memories brought her out of her shell and she started talking to him again.
More and more grateful messages were received – the station’s broadcasts helped relieve depression, they said, and triggered happy memories, helped people relax and improved opportunities for staff and residents to chat about something other than whether it was time for medication.
There was also evidence it reduced both physical and verbal agitation as a result of which, Gary says, the Queensland and federal governments are currently funding research to investigate this further.
In essence, Silver Memories is a 24-hour nostalgia radio station. It plays music from the 1920s to the early ’60s and is transmitted Australia-wide via satellite. Most of the volunteer announcers were broadcasters in the ’40s and ’50s.
“They’re [announcers] reliving their glory days so it’s a passion, a shared experience,” Gary says. “They can tell listeners, ‘Oh, I remember seeing Judy Garland in Meet Me In St Louis’. They can reminisce and that’s the basis of the whole format: Reminiscence Therapy.”
Reminiscence Therapy isn’t new. It can be images, poetry or décor but music works particularly well because it registers on multiple sites of the brain. That means even if the brain is very badly affected by a stroke or illness, there’ll still be a site left that recognises music.
“What’s really amazing is that 2500 years ago, Hippocrates was recommending music as a treatment,” Gary says. “I’m amazed that learning was lost. It’s sheer magic how it works.”
But why not just put on a CD? “Radio is much more personal and targeted,” Gary explains. “Our presenters talk to listeners not at them, they’re having a conversation with people of the same age and that’s what cuts through isolation.”
“The feedback over just that little thing is enormous — it’s a validation of a life.”
For dementia sufferers, especially, it’s also much better than television. Images on a TV screen change every three or four seconds and one of the first signs of dementia is difficulty in following a plot line. A song, in comparison, is comfortingly repetitious.
Silver Memories employs numerous devices to keep listeners engaged. They have a music therapist on staff (her wage is paid via a grant) and nothing is broadcast simply to fill a silence.
Mornings begin with cheerios and birthday greetings while the station’s resident poet writes a poem about a listener, based on details given to him by nursing home staff.
There are themed programs, a ‘Year That Was’ show in which broadcasters discuss the music, films and news from a particular year, and a regular series about favourite singers.
Silver Memories also provides show-related activity kits for therapists to further engage residents and encourage reminiscence.
In 2011, Gary was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to visit other countries using music for dementia management. Silver Memories, he discovered, was the only specialised radio station and has caused great international interest.
His only sadness now is that Jean died before getting to hear the station she inspired.
“Most things that happen to you only change a bit of your life but moving into a nursing home changes everything,” Gary says.
“Silver Memories brings into their living environment things that are familiar and that’s so important.”
Nursing homes pay $375 to $500 per quarter for the service. You can also listen to Silver Memories from your computer online, but due to costs, it will become a subscription-based service for all in 2017.
For more info or to subscribe, visit 4mbs.com.au/silver or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Silver Memories General Manager, Gary Thorpe OAM visits Brisbane’s Zion Lutheran Aged Care facility, where residents enjoy hits of yesteryear on Silver Memories. Picture: Glenn Hunt
This article by Matthew Westwood appeared in THE AUSTRALIAN FEBRUARY 9, 2016
Arts organisations are finding some clever ways to make government grants go further.
The Australian Ballet School in Melbourne, for example, recently opened its much-needed student residence, a home away from home for talented school-age dancers. The school received a federal grant of $1 million, from which it leveraged a further $7m in donations.
Another example of innovative funding is supporting a Brisbane-based service for senior music lovers. The Silver Memories radio station plays golden oldies for people in residential aged care.
The service was started by classical broadcaster 4MBS FM and has received funding from a new finance model, the Arts Business Innovation Fund. The fund is supported jointly by the Queensland government and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation, and provides a combination grant and loan up to $100,000. The capacity-building finance will help 4MBS roll out its Silver Memories satellite service to 20 aged-care homes.
Gary Thorpe, the enterprising manager at 4MBS, was inspired to start Silver Memories almost a decade ago when an elderly neighbour was moving into an aged-care home. The playlist at 4MBS is mostly classical music, but Thorpe saw the opportunity to start a special nostalgia service for isolated older people.
Silver Memories plays old-time music from the 1920s to the 50s: Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Peter Dawson and other recording stars of yesteryear.
But the nostalgia playlist not only makes for pleasant listening; researchers are studying the effect of specially chosen music and how it may help reduce some symptoms of dementia, such as anxiety and agitation.
An early evaluation of Silver Memories, conducted by the Australasian Centre on Ageing at the University of Queensland, found that it improved the quality of life of aged-care residents (average age 79.9 years) and appeared to help improve depression. Carers reported that the music had a calming effect on some patients with dementia.
Next to human kindness, music is a balm that can be especially comforting for people in pain or distress. What music lovers have long recognised by intuition is increasingly backed by research that shows evidence of music’s benefits to health.
Thorpe reports that music therapy has been used with patients suffering from cancer, stroke, Parkinson’s, dementia and related conditions. One theory about its effectiveness has to do with musical receptiveness remaining active in the brain.
Silver Memories appears to be especially effective in the “sundowning” hours between 4pm and 7pm. Catherine Travers, research manager at the University of Queensland school of nursing, says the condition describes the agitation and distress that some dementia patients experience in the late afternoon and evening.
Experience suggests that playing a patient’s preferred music can help improve their mood and reduce agitation. Indeed, Silver Memories has adopted a special playlist for the sundowning hours, with music whose calming tempo matches the heart rate of about 60 beats per minute.
At first Silver Memories was broadcast on the 4MBS subcarrier frequency that required specially modified radios, and was then available as an audio stream.
In late 2014, 4MBS started offering Silver Memories as a satellite service so the station could be received reliably across Australia, especially in regional areas.
Homes such as Zion Lutheran Aged Care in Brisbane pay a subscription to receive the service of about $1500 to $2000 a year, based on the number of residents. About 60 homes are tuning in via satellite and Thorpe wants to increase that number to 200, which would allow a reduction in subscription fees. The service costs about $250,000 a year to run.
The Music Broadcasting Society of Queensland is a not-for-profit organisation and raises about $1m a year to support all its activities, including 4MBS. Membership subscriptions and on-air sponsorships were reliable income streams in the past but that is no longer the case: the station’s diverse fundraising activities include an annual concert festival and a classical music cruise. Silver Memories is forecast to become its fastest growing income stream.
This is where the ABIF finance comes in. The fund is earmarked for business development of small, not-for-profit arts organisations, devised by Foresters Community Finance, Positive Solutions, QUT Creative Enterprise Australia, Arts Queensland and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.
The ABIF finance, comprising a $50,000 grant and a $50,000 interest-free loan, repayable across three years, will help 4MBS roll out Silver Memories to 20 regional locations in Queensland.
The loan is from the corpus of the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation (valued at $84m last financial year) and does not affect the foundation’s grants program. But possible changes to the guidelines for private ancillary funds such as the TFFF could have an impact on arts and other not-for-profit bodies. The federal government has proposed changing the required annual distribution of these funds from 5 per cent of net assets to the Reserve Bank target cash rate (presently 2 per cent). It potentially means reduced grants for fund beneficiaries including arts organisations. Submissions on the proposed changes close on Friday.
The early success of Silver Memories is being noticed. Travers says UQ will begin a 12-month study of the service this year to gauge its effectiveness with dementia patients. Silver Memories was recently a finalist in the International Dementia Awards in Britain, and Thorpe will present a session about the service at the World Science Festival in Brisbane next month.
“It’s getting a lot of attention now from government and philanthropic bodies,” Thorpe says. “I am pleased that we are getting that level of awareness happening.” No less gratifying is the response Thorpe has had from patients and their carers. One man described the comfort Silver Memories had given his wife, telling Thorpe: “I have my wife back, and I have my life back.”
4MBS/Silver Memories General Manager Gary Thorpe was part of an expert paneldiscussing ground-breaking research and information around Music and Memory as part of the World Science Festival which was held in Brisbane last week. This prestigious event attracts some of the best scientific minds from around the globe and has been held in New York until now – but here it is in Brisbane!
They have been sharing their information about their areas of expertise and the Music and Memory session was one such discussion. This forum was an illuminating one and reinforced the fact that we are on the right track with our choices for Silver Memories. The forum also brought more attention to the transforming power of music in other areas such as speech and movement and discussed examples of people acquiring new memories and restoring old.
Professor Götz also discussed early research results around a possible cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. It was wonderful to see SM up there in the mix with other luminaries in the field of music, the brain and memory.
THE Silver Memories radio service has been acknowledged for its efforts at the International Dementia Awards.
The Coorparoo-based nostalgic station provides a sense of companionship to thousands of listeners, including 98-year-old Camp Hill resident Sam Houselander.
The World War II veteran said the old war songs reminded him of his time serving in Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific.
“(The station) goes all day and all night. If I wake up early in the morning it’s there,” Mr Houselander said.
Founder Gary Thorpe said he was thrilled the station had been named a finalist. He said the service used the power of music to bring back happy memories.
“It turns out that music is a very, very powerful tool for managing physical and verbal agitation,” he said.