Pioneering music in every day aged and dementia care

HammondCare’s Music Engagement Program aims to empower residents living with dementia and their family members in their relationships and time together through the power and shared experience of music.

Dr Kirsty Beilharz being interviewed on ABC Radio 702.

The personalised music initiative is part of an integrated program using music to engage people with dementia in interactive experiences. Family members and staff will work with residents to identify the songs and tunes that are meaningful to each individual resident.

iPods for 750 residents

More than 750 residents throughout NSW will use iPods with headphones or personalised speakers to listen to the songs they love. It builds on HammondCare’s rich musical heritage which has been expressed through choirs, chapel services, carols, festivities and performances from visiting musicians.

The program is being led by HammondCare’s Director of Music Engagement, Dr Kirsty Beilharz, a former Professor of Music, Sonification and Interaction Design at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Music's potential to transform

“There has been strong evidence for some time about the potential of music to transform and improve quality of life,” said Dr Beilharz. “With this program we are not re-inventing the wheel – rather, we are seeking to address the gap between research and practice, to put knowledge into action.”

“It’s all about enabling choice and connections for residents and empowering care staff to connect with residents and grow their relationships.

“We have witnessed great examples of residents enjoying and being enlivened by personalised music."

Program underway from October

Residents in Sydney’s north will begin to receive iPods and headphones in October before the initiative is rolled out to other homes. The iPods will also be hooked up to portable speakers for group listening activities in communal spaces and outdoor areas, encouraging residents to spend time outside.

As part of the music engagement program, staff at HammondCare’s aged care homes will receive training on how to engage residents through music. The training will look at a number of areas including assisting residents with dementia to use iPods, facilitating group listening, understanding residents’ response to the music and engaging with music in every day care activities.

"The learning from this work will inform how we use music in community, and hospital care and through HammondCare’s College we aim to educate people across the sector in this work," Dr Beilharz said.

Frank’s* story

Frank is a resident at HammondCare’s Leighton Lodge in North Turramurra. Born in Greece, he emigrated to South Africa where he lived for much of his life and worked as a dentist.

Frank lives with dementia and following a recent hip replacement he has been despondent and is withdrawn. His daughter-in-law visits regularly and sits with him, listening to traditional Greek music and hymns. The music engagement group has also been able to add more of Frank’s musical preferences to his daily playlist.

When he listens to his music, his eyes open widely and he taps along to the rhythm with his hands. On occasion, he has been known to speak clearly and loudly when listening to hymns in a way that he hasn’t done for years.

Frank has a strong connection with the music and is visibly enlivened and engaged when he listens to it.

* Some details changed to protect privacy

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