Above, L-R: Alexandra Dyer and Helen How from Aged Care Deloraine in Tasmania.

By Stephen Easton

As a music therapist, Alexandra Dyer from Aged Care Deloraine in northern Tasmania naturally opened her presentation at the Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) National Conference this week with a song.

As the familiar strains of the classic folk ditty Show me the way to go home faded out, a richly toned radio announcer’s voice filled the room.

“You have tuned into The Residents on 96.9FM, the Meander Valley Community Radio. This program is proudly supported by the Rotary Club of Deloraine.”

Unlike any other radio show, The Residents is a unique and innovative program developed by Ms Dyer, which gives male aged care residents the opportunity to not only participate in music therapy, but to produce and record their own radio show, which is broadcast later on the local community station.

The passionate music therapist assured the audience that she had never considered putting the show live to air, as its purpose is “primarily therapeutic”. All of the current participants experience some form of cognitive decline, from memory loss to early stage dementia, but the radio show helps with that.

“They are now all great mates,” Ms Dyer said during her presentation. “It’s been a huge assistance in maintaining and improving their cognitive skills, and significantly decreased their social isolation.”

Similar to the award-winning ‘Men’s Shed with a Difference’ at NSW nursing home Mater Christi Toormina, (see ‘Nursing homes win $10K mental health prizes’), the program is especially for men living in the predominantly female aged care environment.

“Men in particular can become very isolated within a residential facility,” the music therapist explained. “Particularly if they don’t have family around. They won’t sit outside with their knitting like women do and [easily] make friendships.”

Having their own radio show puts the men back in the driver’s seat, letting them choose the music and topics of discussion, only being prompted when absolutely necessary.  Its main aims include giving the men opportunities to express their emotions and reminisce about the past, as well as increasing their sense of belonging within the aged care facilities they call home.

According to Ms Dyer and her co-presenter Helen How, Aged Care Deloraine’s leisure and lifestyle coordinator, reducing social isolation for these solitary men from agricultural backgrounds is the most important outcome of all.

“I’ve been a farmer all my life, so I’ve always been very isolated. I only ever socialised with people I worked with,” one participant said.

Other feedback from participants and their families also spoke volumes about the value of the radio show, and the men are winning fans in their local community, too. One at least one occaision, according to the presentation, a fan has recognised them by voice during an outing to the local pub.

“It’s all had flow on benefits, not only within the [therapy] group, but for Aged Care Deloraine too,” Ms How said. “Because it’s broadcast in the community, it’s increased awareness of Aged Care Deloraine’s services.”

Responding to a question from the audience, Ms Dyer explained that other aged care providers don’t necessarily need a trained music therapist, like herself, to offer a similar program to their residents.

“Anyone who’s got the computer skills, microphone skills and of course the therapeutic skills to engage them in coversation, would certainly be able to run a program like that,” she explained.

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