Music help for Geraldton dementia trial

Headshot of Peter Sweeney
Peter SweeneyGeraldton Guardian
Camera IconCredit: Thinkstock

The behaviour of people in the Mid West suffering from dementia has improved dramatically since they have started wearing headsets playing digitally stored music.

A pilot project by a Geraldton service club could lead to the dreaded disease being attacked head-on — literally.

The Rotary Club of Geraldton-Greenough has this year trialled 20 headsets in three homes, with all giving the thumbs-up and asking for extra headsets.

The club will monitor the project with aged care providers for a year, including collecting feedback from family members.

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If given the go-ahead, the club will look at extending the headset project Australia-wide, and possibly internationally.

Rotary Club of Geraldton-Greenough spokesman Geoff Wood said the ultimate goal was to distribute the headsets in many countries.

The club has been told there are up to 400 people in the City of Greater Geraldton who suffer from dementia.

They have ordered that many headsets and the same number of 16GB SD cards to hold the music playlists.

The headsets and cards, which will cost the club nearly $16,000, are expected to be delivered by mid-June.

“Our aim is to distribute headsets to all dementia patients in aged care facilities and agencies throughout the Mid West,’’ Mr Wood said.

“Our project is based on programs currently run in the USA and the UK.

“In Australia last year, there were 436,366 people diagnosed with dementia. Dementia Australia expect that number to double in the next five years.

“The University of Melbourne is currently studying how music could revolutionise dementia care. Family members and friends of dementia patients organise a selection of music or songs based on what the person liked earlier. It is then played back to them on demand.

“Trials have shown this has stimulated long-term memory in the brain, creates conversation and brings a level of liveliness and engagement from the patient.

“It has also (been) shown to aid in reducing agitation and aggressive behaviour.’’

The late Hazel Hawke, who was married to former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, suffered from Alzheimer’s. She was also an amateur pianist.
Camera IconThe late Hazel Hawke, who was married to former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, suffered from Alzheimer’s. She was also an amateur pianist. Credit: Getty Images

Opal Aged Care residential manager Carryn Herdman reported a marked reduction in the wandering behaviour of patients since using the musical headsets.

“The patients are more settled and more interactive with their surroundings,’’ Ms Herdman said.

“We see residents singing along with songs and moving in motion with the music.

“We have seen a decrease in medications in some residents since the headsets have come here.

“We would like to access 90 sets to utilise individual programs, particularly for bed/chair-bound residents.’’

Nazareth House would like another 40 sets to facilitate silent discos.

“This would provide residents the opportunity for physical exercise and diversional therapy,’’ wellbeing manager Sari Gregson said.

“The headsets have proven effective in reducing behaviours of concern and we are using them as a first intervention when behaviours occur as opposed to resorting to medication.’’

There has been a “huge difference’’ in the behaviour of one resident at Hillcrest Juniper, according to residential manager Beth Thompson.

“The lady is usually agitated, wandering and crying and wanting to go home. With the music, she sits and sings and is so happy,’’ Ms Thompson said.

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