Silver Memories: Subscription Radio for Australia’s Nursing Homes

12/4/2017 10:21:00 AM

Television can be a good way to while away a few hours. But for some people, tuning into television can just lead them to disengage totally: people with dementia.

On average, pictures change on the television once every three seconds. For many people with Alzheimer’s Disease, it can take that long to work out what’s on the screen. After a minute or so, it becomes just too hard to concentrate: and they withdraw.

When Gary Thorpe, station manager of 4MBS Classic FM in Brisbane, saw this happening to an elderly neighbor of his, he decided to take action. He responded by researching and launching an additional radio station, Silver Memories .

Silver Memories is a radio station specifically for nursing homes. It plays old-time music from the 1920s to the 1960s. It’s live from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., with human voices right through the day. Programs are specifically designed to engage audiences; some come with activity sheets for nursing staff to help them engage further.

“Many of the voluntary announcers are older than the listeners,” Gary Thorpe told me. “We encourage them to share their memories, too — when they first saw a movie, or heard the song for the first time. Some were on the air when the songs were brand new.”

Programs are developed based on research by the University of Queensland, guided by the principles of Reminiscence Therapy. Research on the station’s output appears to show that it improves depression and has a calming effect on those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

In 2007, this station went to air using an FM subcarrier on the main 4MBS signal, funded by a mix of philanthropy and government grant. An initial order of 200 special radio sets was quickly exhausted, and a rush order for a further 2,000 was hurriedly placed.

As news of the station spread, the internet was used as a way to reach nursing homes outside of the FM coverage area; but in rural areas, internet streaming was simply not reliable enough. Buffering and blackouts meant listening was difficult; and equipment was complex and confusing for staff. A new plan had to be put in place: and for that, they turned to the television.

The Optus C1 VAST satellite, which covers all of Australia, carries a set of MPEG-4 television channels, encrypted using the Irdeto 2 system. It also carries a number of encrypted radio channels, including ABC radio broadcasts and some commercial stations. Thanks to a grant from the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation, S ilver Memories secured a space on the satellite in 2015. The service is delivered via IP to an uplink facility, via the National Indigenous Radio Service’s facility in Brisbane.

Nursing homes can subscribe for AUD$800 (US$610) per quarter. After installation, the station can be available via a set of speakers in a communal area, or in individual rooms.

The service is reported to cost AUD$250,000 (US$190,000) annually to run. It requires both subscription revenue and philanthropy to continue operating, however increasing take-up for the station means it is closer to covering operating costs.

Gary Thorpe left me with a story about one man who looked after his wife, who was suffering badly with Alzheimer’s. Silver Memories had such an effect on her that she started speaking again. “You’ve given me my wife back: you’ve given me my life back,” he said.

It’s not often that you hear radio having such a positive, life-changing effect on people. 

 

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