Rocking into retirement: Rethinking aged care entertainment with the timeless tunes of the 60s

Dec 18, 2023
Source: Getty Images.

Imagine an entertainer starting a concert in an aged care home with a rocking version of Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones.

Or perhaps, someone turning the amplifier to 11 and belting out Whole Lotta Love by Led Zepplin. Too loud?

Well, maybe try Last Kiss by Pearl Jam. That’s a tad more mellow, isn’t it? Most of us think that music in Aged Care homes should be an assortment of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett tunes, with a little You Are My Sunshine thrown in for good measure. That fact is, we need to start to re-think what “aged” and aged care entertainment looks and sounds like.

The average age of people entering Aged Care residential facilities in Australia is about 80. So, that’s people who were born in 1943, in the middle of the chaos of World War II. If you do the math, those same people were 19 in 1962, the year Brian Jones formed The Rolling Stones in London. Incidentally, Mick Jagger – who is still playing to massive audiences from festival stages around the world – was also born in 1943. So, he’s a contemporary of many people who will enter an aged care home in 2024, even if he doesn’t look like it.

The Beatles released their first single in 1962, Love Me Do, which peaked at a respectable number 17 on the UK charts. In the US of A (as it was called then), Little Eva was on board The Locomotion, Chubby Checker was asking us to Twist Again and The Beach Boys were embarking on a Surfin’ Safari.

Music was fun. It put a smile on your face. It made you feel young. Sinatra is great, but I’m not sure he was ever young. I think he was born with an old soul. The 1960s, where today’s Aged Care newbies sowed their oats, was a time of experimentation. The music was louder, drug use was more prevalent than previous decades, and fashion exploded with a rainbow of colour. Today’s generation, and I know this is a generalisation, appear to live their lives on iPhone screens in a world that will soon be consumed by Artificial Intelligence. They communicate by text, avoid conflict (unless it is anonymous and on social media) and they don’t ask a lot of questions.

People in the 1960s, tasted life. The 60s was a decade of social change. The young people of the 60s truly changed the world forever. They marched on the streets in protest against just about everything. They fought so hard for a right to be heard. They questioned everything, for better or worse. I remember in my working life, writing a story for APT – the river cruise company – about things to do in Amsterdam, one of its prime destinations. The young PR person who had final approval of my copy asked me to remove any reference to Amsterdam and its famous night life, which as you know features a lot of drugs taking and shop front windows full of prostitutes.

“My grandmother is the kind of person who books our river cruises,’’ this indignant young lady told me.

“She wouldn’t want to read about the Red Light District and drugs.”

The PR person was horrified when I pointed out that her grandmother lived through the 1960s which was the decade of Free Love and that her grandmother probably had a very wild side underneath her perfectly ironed Country Road linen pants and top, if she ever cared to ask her about it.

How often do we ask older people what they think? What they want? And how they feel? How often do we engage with them, and listen to their opinions? Do we just assume they like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. I’m sure many do, but I’m also positive some crave the thumping guitar sounds produced by AC/DC’s Angus and Malcolm Young.

I think it is time we cranked up the jukebox and changed the soundtrack of our lives. My father-in-law Drew was in a care home in Arbroath, on the East Coast of Scotland, a couple of years back. His bedroom window looked out to the Bell Rock Lighthouse – built by Robert Stevenson between 1807 and 1810 – still standing resolutely against a constant battering of waves from the North Sea. Drew was 81 and suffered from dementia.

Some days he was lucid. Other days he wasn’t. His favourite band though was Status Quo. Last time they toured Australia where he lived for a large portion of his life, Drew asked me to get tickets and go with him. He rocked his head back and forth as Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt drained every last 12-bar blues sound out of their guitars at the Brisbane Convention Centre.

“They’ve still got it,’’ he said afterwards. For Drew, he would have gladly filled his final days in the care home listening to Status Quo. Something he loved.

FOOTNOTE: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction was released in 1965. It is widely regarded as the greatest rock song ever written. Led Zepplin released Whole Lotta Love in 1969.

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