Health prize for golden oldies broadcaster

By Liz Hobday
Updated November 3 2022 - 4:53pm, first published 4:50pm
Broadcaster Gary Thorpe is one of the winners of the Australian Mental Health Prize. (PR HANDOUT IMAGE PHOTO)
Broadcaster Gary Thorpe is one of the winners of the Australian Mental Health Prize. (PR HANDOUT IMAGE PHOTO)

The cheerful sound of golden oldies is being piped into 200 aged care homes across Australia, thanks to the efforts of broadcaster Gary Thorpe.

For about 20,000 aged care residents, many of whom have dementia, Thorpe's Silver Memories radio station brings back memories of happier times.

"We have heard that some people wake up in the morning and turn it on, and don't turn it off until they go to bed, it's a companion for them," he told AAP.

Thorpe has been named as one of the winners of the 2022 Australian Mental Health Prize for his efforts at Silver Memories, which now broadcasts 24 hours a day.

The manager of 4MBS Classic FM in Brisbane first set up the service in 2008 after noticing a friend and fellow music lover become depressed after moving into a nursing home.

"I got it into my head to start a radio station for people like Jean, because music is one of the most powerful reminiscence tools, it fixes the brain far more than anything else," he said.

Silver Memories now has a team of 16 announcers who play requests, read birthday greetings, and join in reminiscing about long-ago times.

Importantly, they don't talk down to their listeners, and there's no advertising or news on the station.

The old-time music prompts aged care residents to chat, and helps staff to learn what life was like for residents in their younger days.

A year ago, the service even began streaming on iPads and android tablets, with thousands of photos from around Queensland to go with the music tracks.

The station is funded through quarterly subscriptions, grants, and philanthropic support.

At the mental health prizes announced in Sydney on Thursday, Donna Stanley was also awarded for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health leadership, with swimmer Ian Thorpe and National Mental Health Commissioner Alan Woodward also recognised.

One in three Australians will have a mental illness in their lifetime.

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Australian Associated Press