Arts and crafts at Bristol Museum

Caring culture: Museums reaching out to people with dementia

Museums are finding creative new ways to stay engaged with people who have dementia during the pandemic.

Over the past few years, many museums have been finding new ways to help people affected by dementia benefit from their collections and other resources.

Although the pandemic has affected so many aspects of life, we look at innovations that continue to make a real difference by connecting with and involving people.

Just when needed 

The Northern Ireland Museums Council (NIMC) has been supporting a range of museums to undertake dementia-friendly activities, before and during the pandemic. This includes the Northern Ireland War Memorial in Belfast, which tells the story of the home front in Northern Ireland during the Second World War. 

After the first lockdown in March, the museum created a free singalong CD of 1940s songs, based on its dementia-friendly singing and reminiscence workshops. An accompanying songbook offered suggested exercises taken from Love to Move, the British Gymnastics Foundation seated exercise programme for older people. These resources were sent to care homes across Northern Ireland to raise people’s spirits.

A session at Northern Ireland War Memorial

A session at Northern Ireland War Memorial.

The museum has also partnered with Sport Northern Ireland for two pilot schemes – funded by NIMC – that provided online Love to Move sessions for residents of Kirk House care home in Belfast, including those with dementia. The second of the schemes, which combine reminiscence, activities and exercise, was called Memories, Movement & Museums. 

‘This time we’ve provided the care home with a COVID-secure loan box of objects and photographs, which makes it a more multisensory experience for the participants,’ says Michael Fryer, Outreach Officer at the Northern Ireland War Memorial. 

Feedback from care homes shows how these sorts of activity can bring enjoyment to people with dementia at a challenging time.

In thanking the museum for hosting Love to Move sessions, one care home staff member said, ‘They came just when needed – with the isolation of lockdown, the residents really needed something else to think and talk about.’

Finding solutions 

Before lockdown, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery hosted pop-up Creative Cafés for people affected by dementia. These aimed to improve the health and wellbeing of participants through creative activities and by exploring the wealth of objects and paintings at the museum. 

With the support of Alive Activities, a charity working in care homes, residents were invited to the cafés, though not all of them were able to attend. In response, the museum launched ArtBox, a scheme that takes activity boxes of sensory and tactile objects directly to people with dementia in hospitals and care homes.

The contents of an ArtBox hospital staff box.

An activity box sent to a hospital.

When the first lockdown began, the museum held online workshops to show its staff and artists how to make origami window hangings, which were sent as gifts to care homes.

Working with carers, activity co-ordinators, hospital staff, artists and a local dance practitioner, the museum then created Being Human Moves, a series of seven postcards suggesting movement and dance activities.

Based on sculptures and collections at the museum, the postcards are being sent to contacts including care homes. The museum also hopes to produce packs containing word and poetry activities and games.

‘We are keeping in contact and supporting people living with dementia and carers as best we can, and using our creativity to find solutions to this end,’ says Ailsa Richardson, Engagement Officer for Older People at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.

Lots to offer 

Also in Bristol is Brunel’s SS Great Britain, a museum ship originally designed by legendary engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. 

Since 2018, over 130 staff and volunteers at the attraction have become Dementia Friends. The museum also worked with Alive Activities to engage care homes, and it built relationships with other organisations that support people living with dementia. 

Prior to the pandemic, the museum organised activities at a memory café and a day centre, as well as a special guided visit for care home residents.

A screenshot of an SS Great Britain online session

SS Great Britain has provided online sessions.

After lockdown restrictions came into place, the museum held online sessions for people who’d normally attend Alzheimer’s Society memory cafés. This included a virtual tour of the ship using video footage. 

One person got in touch afterwards to say, ‘I would like to thank you all for a lovely session, it actually kept my husband engaged with what he was watching and the discussion afterwards, where normally he might switch off.’ 

The museum now hopes to trial similar sessions for other groups, including care home residents. 

‘The benefits of engagement with heritage for people living with dementia are widely recognised, so I think we have a lot to offer care home residents,’ says Leila Nicholas, Communities Officer at Brunel’s SS Great Britain Trust and a Dementia Friends Champion.
‘The museum can engage people with a range of interests, from engineering and ships, to stories and social history, or simply through having a fun and surprising experience.’

We need your help

We can’t keep our phone lines open or manage the increase in demand for our services without urgent financial support. Please donate today – with your help, we can show people living with dementia that they aren’t alone.

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Dementia together magazine: Dec 20/Jan 21

Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
Subscribe now


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