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The plight of our elderly in today's so-called caring society is something for which we should all feel shame. But how much of this neglect is of our own making? 

I watched the episode of Hardgaves on Sky News Australia the other night and he had a segment on the Royal Commission into Aged Care. Bronwyn Bishop was one of his guests. As always, she offered her rare insight into a problem that she approached with her normal passionate and insightful commonsense. One particular issue she highlighted was the role of the volunteer entertainers and musicians who gave of their time so generously and contributed a worthwhile and much eagerly anticipated injection of pleasure on their regular visits.

 My parents were two such entertainers. For many years, they packed their car with the keyboard that Redhead played and my late father would need to accompany with his magnificent crooning singing voice. Dad would pack up ( under Redhead's meticulous supervision, of course ) and they would drive, at their own expense, all over the area to different Respite Centres  and Aged Care homes to perform their " gigs." 

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The programme would be carefully planned to coincide with such events as ANZAC Day or St Patrick's Day or Father's Day, Mother's Day and so on. They would then practice and run through the songs and ensure that what they delivered was the best that it could be.

They never wanted to let their fans down.

The keyboard, speakers, microphone and other equipment would be unloaded by my Dad and set up in the common room that had been assigned as their venue for the entertainment. The audience would show up early, while they were still setting up and a bit of light banter would ensue. Closer to the commencement of the " gig " the staff would wheel in the bedridden or those who were confined to wheelchairs and the show would kick off.

I know, because I attended some of their performances and marvelled at how they managed to create an atmosphere of excitement, anticipation and joy in those that waited for the grand show. 

cartoon elderly dancing

My father was a very handsome man, even in his latter years and Redhead always made sure that he was well shaved, well groomed and sporting the best clobber - he always looked like a man about to go on a date with a very lovely lady. One day, as I sat in the audience, an old bony hand placed itself on my right shoulder. I looked behind me and there was a silver haired lass aged about 165, eyes gleaming at my Dad, with an almost " groupie " admiration and she whispered to me " isn't he wonderful? " 

According to Redhead, many of the older ladies invited my father back to their rooms and he would laugh and say " I haven't been able to do that since 1950 and I'm not about to start now! " and give them a wink. It set the mood for an hour of fun, escapism and a trip down Memory Lane.

I noticed that some of the audience, the late comers, were in bedchairs or were so lost in a fog of forgetfulness that they barely reacted to the music when it started. But, as time went by, a toe would tap, a grunt or "humpf " would come out and an eye would suddenly see through the mist of loss and focus on something familiar: a song from decades ago when there was no mist of time.

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Afterwards, Mum and Dad would circulate and chat and laugh and hold hands with their fans and promise faithfully to come back and visit next week. Which they did. Year after year, performing the same routine of practice, load the car, unload the car and meet, greet entertain and embrace.

But one day, it all came to a grinding halt. It was decided that entertainers had to have public liability insurance. Without it, they could not perform in these centres.

All of the centres put my parents onto their insurance policies - only ONE did not. This was sadly not universal and many entertainers ceased to exist. 

It was only after watching Bronwyn last night when she said that this was a bad thing for  Aged Care in Australia that I realised the true impact of this ridiculous piece of legislation. Apparently. someone might trip over the power cord to the keyboard. 

Many of these patients had no visitors. They regarded people like my parents as THEIR visitors. My parents were coming to see THEM. My father sang to THEM. Redhead played for THEM.

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They were also the eyes and ears of the public. If Mum and Dad saw a patient in distress it would not be missed. 

The care homes had to be on their best behaviour because these musicians and visitors opened them up to unbiased scrutiny every visit. 

When the musicians left, the music left. And, with it, the watchdogs that kept the powers that be on their toes.

Not only did the residents lose their entertainment, they also lost their visitor, their guardian and their ability to stay in communication with their inner self.

As Bronny said, who did it help?

Certainly not the patients because that was the day that so much of the music died. In more ways than one.


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