Keeping in Mind – Dementia and Museums

A doubling in the amount of money put into dementia research by 2025 was announced by David Cameron at the G8 Summit this week, as recent studies suggest that with ageing populations worldwide, dementia cases are set to treble by 2050. Dementia is an umbrella term to describe a number of conditions that cause a deterioration in brain functions. Two recent, yet very different, training experiences have given the Visitor Services team an insight and helped us to question what, as a museum, we can do to help those with this condition.

Our first training experience, a day with Pamela Aldridge from Alzheimer’s Australia was an introduction to new research that suggests a positive effect from art-based approaches to caring for people with dementia. Alongside colleagues from Manchester Hospitals and the Whitworth Art Gallery we learnt about the pioneering research by Alzheimer’s SA, who have implemented the Montessori-method to design activities; some of which use visual cues, objects, simple matching games and stories with discussion points which can be read aloud with dementia patients. Evidence now exists to suggest that repeacting these activities can increase the liveliness of the brain, and whilst not being a cure could improve quality of life for those in care. An opportunity at the end of the session to design an activity related to the museum and its collections allowed us some time to consider how our museum’s objects could be used as part of simple ‘reading’ and ‘doing’ activities.

The second training experience was a day under the spell of performance-based trainers AFTA Thought, who introduced the theme of dementia awareness to an audience of healthcare professionals and members of our team at Manchester Royal Infirmary. Their set of short, acted scenes were moving to watch; particularly when addressing the human impact of the condition on the person, who can suddenly find it difficult to remember where they are or may lose previous inhibitions, changing in character and temperament. Also explored were the reactions of family and friends, who often find it hard to engage with and recognise the person they once knew. The day was useful to help us understand how dementia has been previously misunderstood and treatment over-generalised. It reaffirmed the use of art-based approaches as laid out in the previous session, and after a post-session discussion it was decided that any resources developed should have an element which can be left behind and repeated by family members and carers; ensuring longevity and allowing those who are close to the person in care to play a part in improving their wellbeing.

Members of the Visitor Services team now support the Manchester Museum’s outreach sessions ‘Coffee, Cake and Culture’; visiting nursing homes and organising return visits to the museum for those in care who have early onset dementia. As a result of our recent training a major new project will be launched in early 2014 – watch this space for more details.

Follow tweets from Alzheimer’s Australia @alznsw and AFTA Thought @AFTA_Thought.

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