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"Music brings a river of joy": Terry's story


We first met Terry after a call from the local hospital.

Terry had an accident on a local railway station, and had been admitted for care. He was on the mend, but Terry was confused and seemed completely alone. Amazingly, there was no detailed background information available. It seemed he was a man with no family, no past, and no identity. And Terry was living with dementia.

A State Guardian was appointed to look after Terry and he came to live with HammondCare at Erina.

Over time we learned a little more about him. His birth certificate indicates he was born in Scotland. He had lived on the central coast in the same house for many years. And he had a daily routine of walking from his home to Terrigal Beach and back - a round trip of about 4 hours. Along the way he would collect whatever he could find, and store it in his home. You could say he was something of a hoarder. But beyond that, we still know precious little about Terry.

As we’ve got to know him, we’ve worked to understand him and the things that are important to him.

One thing he loves is to dismantle things. Various pieces of equipment and furniture are regularly disassembled and moved around. You never know quite what you will find where. It’s a very strong, inquisitive impulse, and we have learned that it’s best not to try to gently dissuade him. It’s just something Terry needs to do, and it’s important to him…and he certainly keeps our maintenance team occupied!

And he’s a night owl. Often while everyone else is asleep, Terry’s curled up on the couch, watching TV, getting a snack from the fridge, and happy-as-Larry.

We also noticed that Terry is not big on chat. He’s not very communicative with language or touch. He seems a loner, often isolated, and disengaged. He will just sit quietly for long periods. We wondered if there was a way to help him find company, happiness, enjoyment.

When the new HammondCare Music Engagement program arrived at Erina a few months ago, our goal was to enable choice and connections for residents, and to empower care staff to connect with residents, and grow their relationships.

For Terry, so often seemingly disengaged and alone, the program has been a revelation.

The first time Terry had his specially prepared iPod on, and the headphones in place, he was transformed. He hopped to his feet and a beaming, rascally smile was splitting his face. Soon he was dancing, skipping and laughing, and soon the whole room was enjoying the moment.

It’s a transformation that is ongoing, and Terry’s life has been enriched. Every time he puts on his iPod and headphones, suddenly he’s engaged, laughing with other residents and their families, dancing with care staff, and in a most beautiful way, he’s enjoying some basics of human contact that we can all take for granted– touch, talk, humour, dance.

It doesn’t matter that he’s already dismantled four iPods. The gift of music has brought a flood of joy to Terry and everyone fortunate enough to be in his dancing, hugging, cheeky path. For a solitary man, with no family or friends, and whose past is still very much a mystery, the Music Engagement Program has been a wonderful gift that lights up all our lives.

The HammondCare Music Engagement Program

Over the past year, HammondCare has distributed hundreds of iPod shuffles to residents in many of our residential care homes, with an individualised playlist selected specifically for the resident to ensure what they hear is familiar and relevant. It’s part of an ongoing project to discover how the power of music can improve quality of life for people living with dementia.

More information on the Music Engagement Program.