Exploring The Effect Of Music on Creative Ageing


Music as therapy in aged care will be examined for the effect it has on creativity and resilience in ageing by Professor Andrea Creech, a professor in music education at the Université Laval in Canada, at the International Arts and Health Conference in Sydney from 30 October to 1st November. Held at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney, the overarching theme of the conference is “Mental Health and Resilience through the Arts”.

Andrea makes the point that society recognises the human need to be cared for and to belong, but often forgets how important it is for people to make a contribution, to feel valued and to be creative. “Music builds resilience, is cognitively engaging and is associated with lasting effects on brain plasticity, as well as with non-musical brain functions, such as language and attention.” she said “but perhaps the most important point is that making music is both social and communicative and is strongly related to sustaining a sense of who we are.”

Music has been used for people with dementia to great effect, as it has been found that music triggers an emotional response, tied to a memory.  Emotions and memory work side by side, so when music from a particular era is played it will often trigger memories of the person’s past that they have long forgotten.

Pete McDonald, who works full-time as a registered music therapist at Hammond Care and other aged care services in NSW, always finishes his workshop series with a public concert to which the family and friends of the participants are invited. He ensures participants are involved physically in music making, playing instruments and singing. He told Australian Ageing Agenda “Not only do we see the benefits in the social and cognitive realms, but also physical health benefits such as improved lung capacity.”

I find it heartening to hear that Professor Creech believes “It is entirely possible, given the opportunity and support, to be creative at any age”, but she then questions whether enough opportunities are provided for this. As an Aged Care Placement Consultant I regularly inspect aged care facilities and I always look for positive activities such as music workshops for my clients. It is clear that creative therapies, such as music, are positive on many levels and society’s attitude to older people need to change to allow this expression. One way is through intergenerational activity, and music is a great vehicle.


Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Conference in Melbourne

The 17th Alzheimer’s Australia Biennial National Dementia Conference is being held in Melbourne right now from 17th to 20th October. The title of the Conference is “ Be The Change” – the conference aims to inspire delegates to explore more innovative and creative ways to improve the quality of life and support of people, of all ages, living with all forms of dementia. Being very involved in the aged care sector, as an Aged Care Placement Consultant, I look forward to the ongoing changes and improvements as a result of this conference.

I was very impressed by the great line up of Keynote Speakers that include:

 Dr. Susan Koch, who is currently involved in a project to develop an Australian Community of Practice in Research in Dementia (ACcORD) to improve health outcomes for people with dementia and their carers; Professor Sam Gandy, an international expert in the metabolism of the sticky substance called amyloid that clogs the brain in people living with Alzheimer’s disease; Naomi Feil, developed the now world renowned Validation method and has written two books and numerous articles on the method; Scientia Prof Henry Brodaty AO, one of the world’s leading researchers in dementia, a clinician, policy advisor and a strong advocate for people living with dementia and their carers and Ita Buttrose, National Ambassador of Alzheimer’s Australia, having served as National President from 2011-14, and a former Australian of the Year (2013), she has had a long interest in health and ageing.


Dr. Piers Dawes from the University of Manchester is giving the Libby Harrick’s Memorial Oration. Dr. Dawes oration explores the relationship between hearing impairment and cognition, looking at the implications for hearing loss as a biomarker for cognitive well-being and also as a causal contributor to cognitive decline and poor quality of life in older age.

At the Conference research, being jointly undertaken by the University of Melbourne, Dementia Australia and Assistance Dogs Australia, on the affect of assistance dogs on people with early onset dementia was discussed. The research so far has shown that assistance dogs help to relieve loneliness, anxiety and depression for their owners with early onset dementia and gives them the experience of responsible dog ownership. Another bonus is the help they give to carers and family by providing the extra support. This research continues until next year.  I look forward to seeing the final research findings which may be of help to some of my clients who are seeking suitable aged care accommodation.

Greater Transparency About Aged Care Facilities Leads to Consumer Empowerment

It seems that aged care provision is at a cross roads. An article in a series on aged care published in the Sydney Morning Herald in September looked at deregulation. According to the article National President of Dementia Australia, Graeme Samuel says he is “very much in favour” of deregulating the aged care system. He believes that only consumer empowerment will improve it. He says that before this can be achieved the government’s accreditation agency must make some changes, such as introducing more rigorous standards in their accreditation system and the government should allow the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner to have the power to publish the names of aged care facilities that have complaints upheld against them. Drawing from his experience as the former head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission he stated “It’s so obvious. When you start doing that, the consumers are empowered and they’re only ever empowered by transparency and accountability, which was the fundamental mantra of what we did at ACCC.”

Another of Mr. Samuel’s concerns was the lack of hard information to allow elderly people to make sound choices when they select an aged care facility. “People are bombarded with marketing information, whether it’s accurate or not. It’s all huff and puff.”  He claims that selections are made based on this marketing and once they are in the facility and find out it’s not suitable they can’t change easily. Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt acknowledges the problem, saying “I accept that with consumer-directed care what you have to make available is the information relevant to each facility … we should be transparent … and I acknowledge that we don’t do that with aged care.”

As an Aged Care Placement Consultant I am in a position to have access to a lot more information about aged care facilities than most consumers are able to know.  That is the reason I am able to help people to find a facility that suits their particular needs, the depth of knowledge I have of each facility and also the ability to properly assess their needs and wants for their future home.  However, I am in agreement with Mr. Samuel that there needs to be much greater transparency and accountability within this sector to enable elderly people to make a sound selection.  I know, perhaps better than most, how important it is for someone going into an aged care home to get it right. After all, this is their home for the rest of their lives.

Helping Elderly Aged Care Residents Improve Well-being Through Technology

A guide to help aged care organisations support residents to use technology and social media to stay connected with their loved ones was launched in Canberra recently. Tech Connect: Staying Meaningfully Connected in Aged Care is a valuable resource using technology to help make the lives of older Australians better. There is a growing trend towards using technology in aged care to support and uplift the lives of our seniors. As an Aged Care Placement Consultant I see the benefit of using technology to help residents in aged care stay connected.

Launched by Meaningful Ageing Australia, the aim of Tech Connect is to support residents’ spiritual wellbeing by helping them maintain important connections with family, friends and occasions. Written by Southern Cross Care spiritual wellbeing coordinator Beate Steller, who utilises technology at SCC’s Nagle Residential Aged Care to keep connections going, it helps to maintain residents’ familial relationships, helping to overcome physical separation.

Ms. Steller said “It is not just the technology but the way you facilitate it and make the connections before, during and after an event.” For example an 87-year-old resident of the facility realised she was too frail to attend her grandson’s wedding, so the wedding was brought to her. Shown on a large screen with residents celebrating with a high tea Pat was able to be involved in the wedding despite her physical limitations. “In the weeks leading up there was all the preparation, the couple skyped Pat before the wedding and afterwards it was all the reminiscing and the memories,” Ms Steller said.

Technology has been adapted in other ways too. Talk2Me aims to fill a gap through the development of a voice-to-voice translation tool, designed with the needs of older people, particularly those living with dementia, in mind. People talk into the device, which translates their message into another appropriate language, forming a communication link with another person. This will be a game changer for people with dementia from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds as it will improve the quality of care, with their carers able to understand their needs, thus reducing the need for potentially avoidable hospitalisations. The project is by the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI), Curve Tomorrow and Mercy Health and has received funding from the Department of Health.

Even pain can be better monitored through an App called ePAT, developed by Curtin University that assesses pain in people with dementia. A study, recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, tested the validity and reliability of the electronic pain assessment tool in people with moderate to severe dementia. The research found strong positive correlation in the psychometric properties between the ePAT App and the Abbey Pain Scale.

Using the camera in a smartphone or tablet to video an individual with dementia, then using facial recognition software to detect the presence of facial micro-expressions that are indicative of the presence of pain the App combines this information with other pain indicators, such as vocalisations, behaviours and movements, to generate a pain severity score. As pain is very common among people with dementia, who often lose the ability to communicate verbally as the disease progresses, this pain can go undetected. An App that can help detect severe pain can only help to make their lives more comfortable.


Korongee Village Introduces A New Approach To Dementia Care

Shops in the De Hogeweyk village.

In the fourth article, published on 26th September 2017, of its series on aged care, the Sydney Morning Herald writer Michael Bachelard looked at the new village, Korongee for sufferers of dementia, still in the concept stage, to be built in Hobart in 2019. He quotes Lucy O’Flaherty from Glenview Community Care, who states “This is not about creating a simulated life. It’s about letting people with dementia do what they want to do, when they want to do it, in a safe environment.” She explains that they’ll have 15 homes and each will look different so the residents can visually orientate themselves. Part of the safe environment will be provided by technology with residents monitored in their homes by listening technology, sensor flooring, movement sensors and temperature and CO2 levels will be automatically controlled.

The announcement of the development of the village, based on the De Hogeweyk village in the Netherlands, caught my attention and I first wrote about it in early August. The village reflects the philosophy that, after a full life making their own decisions, even people with dementia can have a valid opinion on their day to day life and surroundings. By destressing the environment and providing a place in which people with dementia can live their lives as they always have, you change the experience. O’Flaherty says “Stress only accelerates the decline.”

The village will have shops, a café, a beauty salon and a cinema, which will also be accessed by the local community. Revenue from these operations will flow back into the aged care facility.

I have seen and continue to see many new aged care facilities being developed as I inspect them on behalf of my clients who are seeking suitable aged care options.  This village concept for people experiencing dementia has me excited and I hope to see one built in Melbourne in the not too distant future.

More detailed information from the ABC.


Challenging Physical Activity a Positive For The Elderly


Research on the effects on older people of challenging physical activities like traversing high ropes and stand-up paddle boarding have shown positive results. A leading researcher Liz Cyarto from the Bolton Clarke Institute first did a pilot in Victoria in 2014 that demonstrated the feasibility of an immersive outdoor education program for seniors. The 24 participants, aged from 56 to 83 spent three nights at a camp taking part in adventurous outdoor challenges, such as a high-ropes course. Since that time Ms Cyarto has been involved in the running of several adventure camps for seniors.


One of the camps, held on the Mornington Peninsula, had 32 seniors aged 61-84 years take part in the two-night outdoor experience with a focus on activities that helped them to set goals that would improve their wellbeing. Ms Cyarto tells the story of one participant who had mobility issues who set a goal to get into a kayak – just get it in it, not paddle around; she achieved the goal and cried with joy when she accomplished it. It helped her to get back on her walking program when she returned home. It is so inspiring to me to hear of this type of research and seeing progress being made to help ageing people achieve the best quality of life possible. I interact with many elderly people as an Aged Care Placement Consultant and am always concerned for their continuing welfare.


The researcher found that older people were open to trying new challenging activities and said “The main message is people are realising that they have the capacity for learning new things and having the physical abilities to do them; it’s surprising to them.” The thrill campers get when walking on a high beam held only by ropes, the joy of morning walks on the beach, bush walking, archery, kayaking and singing around the campfire, has boosted their confidence through facing challenges, connecting with nature and their fellow campers.





The Picture Of Aged Care In Australia

Jillian Slade with a happy client.

It is fascinating to look at the statistical information gathered about aged care services in Australia. 249,000 (equates to almost a quarter of a million!) people were using these services on 30 June 2016. As I regularly visit aged care facilities on inspections for my clients to find the most suitable facility for their particular needs, many of these statistics are seen as realities to my eyes.

For example, two out three people in aged care are women; ofcourse in my role as an Aged Care Placement Consultant I see this myself. Apparently the reason they outnumber men in aged care services is because on average women live longer and have higher care needs at these older ages. One of the sadder statistics is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in residential care are on average younger than non-Indigenous people. The reason for this may be because of their more complex health needs and shorter life expectancies. Interestingly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people only account for 1% of all people in permanent residential aged care and make up 4% of people in home care.

32% of people who are in aged care services were born overseas. This is in direct correlation with migration statistics, with 36% of people aged 65 years and over in Australia having been born overseas. This stat gives clear evidence as to the need for more culturally appropriate services in aged care for this group.

Statistics on respite care in residential care facilities reflect how important these facilities are for respite in remote regions.  Major cities only recorded 2.6% of the people in residential care facilities being there for respite. There was an outward radiating statistic for this group the more remote the facility was, with inner regional being 3.1%, outer regional being 3.6% and remote and very remote being 4.6%.  One assumes this is because there are not many other respite facilities available in these regions.