Memories of Elvis show music can heal

Meet John “Sean” O’Malley – the King of Blacktown Hospital.

The 78-year-old Elvis-mad dementia patient is living proof that music can heal.

When Sean arrived at Blacktown Hospital, his dementia often made him angry, distressed and, sometimes, violent.

But once his favourite Elvis tunes went on, he became calm and easy to interact with – just ask his fellow patients and staff, who have been rocking around the dementia ward with him!

Sean is a success of Blacktown Hospital’s Music & Memory program – an Arts Health Institute initiative – which was implemented at the hospital last year.

Dementia staff are seeing great results from personalised playlists for patients – the music calms them, making it easier for doctors and nurses to treat them and families to interact with them.


Sean’s daughter Trish Scerri said she couldn’t believe what music had done for her dad.

“When he first came into hospital, I kept getting phone calls and I would have to rush in to settle him down,” she said.

“But with Elvis playing, there was a sense of ease; you could tell the difference straight away.”

Blacktown Hospital clinical nurse consultant Katie Conciatore agreed, noting the program had been ground-breaking.

“Music makes your brain light up – but when you get a response like Sean, it’s amazing,” she said.

“This is the most alert and alive I’ve seen him – and all for the cost of an iPod.”

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