“Warm hearted”, “gentle” and “incredibly enthusiastic” are just some of the many kind words used to describe Walter Thomasson, long-standing employee and life-changing activities officer at Catholic Healthcare’s Maranatha Lodge.
Walter, a quiet achiever at Maranatha Lodge, has spent more than five years working in the Batehaven aged care service.
Starting as a carer for more than 400 residents, he now dedicates his time to developing strategies to manage the residents with higher care needs, such as those with dementia and Alzheimer’s, as the services’ recreational activities officer.
Walter offers a range of activities for his clients well-beyond the norm of any regular aged care service. Among the activities he organises is a weekly movie session for the residents, where he enhances the movie-going experience by dressing up as a traditional theatre usher.
But the most astounding, and life-changing activity Walter engages in is his music therapy sessions.
Working with residents living with symptoms of memory loss, confusion and distress, Walter spends hours researching his clients’ personal history in order to achieve the most effective result.
By speaking to family, staff and others with a historical knowledge of the client, he looks for music that resonates with positive periods of their lives - like 60s dance music, their wedding song, or even in the case of a woman who worked as a librarian in her younger years – audiobooks.
Walter explains finding the music that resonates specifically with the client, rather than a generic music track, is integral in getting a positive outcome.
“The music can’t just be ‘any old thing’,” he says. “It sometimes takes weeks or months to find the music that clicks for a client.”
Walter was originally inspired to take music therapy into the Maranatha Lodge after watching a feature documentary about the impact of the alternative therapy on dementia clients, shown last year on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
Intrigued by the baffling positive results, he continued his research to other studies, some of which showed an incredible success rate of 71% in patients suffering anxiety, a common behavioural symptom of dementia.
After applying the principles of these studies to his own environment, Walter experienced success when working with a client living with severe dementia. After a few weekly sessions, the client surprised staff, family and friends by communicating with increased effectiveness, after months of that motor skill diminishing at a rapid rate.
The words, “Thank you for giving me my husband back,” from the clients’ wife, touched Walter more than any other patient he’s ever worked with.
“I truly see the impact that this therapy has on people, every day,” he says. “You couldn’t pay me any amount of money to do anything else”.
Walter continues his amazing work at the Maranatha Lodge, working hard to help more people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, every day.