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How Museums Are Reaching Out to People With Dementia

museums Dementia

Dementia results from diseases like Alzheimer’s or a series of strokes that cause brain damage. It presents as memory loss, confusion, difficulties with thinking, problem-solving, or language, and can lead to changes in mood and behaviour. Since dementia’s manifestation varies from person to person, it often goes unnoticed in public spaces, leading to individuals with dementia sometimes being misunderstood.

Museums Making a Difference for Dementia Patients

Cultural institutions such as museums are becoming important pillars in enhancing dementia awareness and education. They serve as safe spaces and run various activities tailored to the needs of people with dementia, emphasizing the crucial role of museums in reaching out to people with dementia.

Image: MCA Australia

Australia’s Museum of Contemporary Art spearheaded an art therapy program called Artful from March 2016 to October 2018. This research program aimed to explore whether creative art programmes can enhance wellbeing in people living with dementia. Participants and caregivers alike responded positively to the program, demonstrating the impact of museums’ initiatives on dementia patients and their caregivers.

Dementia Awareness in Museums: House of Memories

House of Memories, a museum-led dementia awareness programme under National Museums Liverpool, focuses on museum-based activities and dementia-friendly training. These dementia awareness workshops offer an overview of dementia, practical caring approaches, and the use of an innovative app for sharing memories, further emphasizing the importance of museums in supporting people with dementia.

Elderly woman being shown app

Image: National Museums Liverpool

Ensuring Art Accessibility: Meet Me at MoMA

The Museum of Modern Art in New York’s program, Meet Me at MoMA, allows people with dementia to interact with and create art in a community setting. The museum’s commitment to providing services for people with dementia has resulted in a wide range of resources that cater to those with dementia.

Becoming Dementia-Friendly: The Living Each Season Project

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery’s “Living Each Season” project offers a range of dementia-friendly activities, promoting engagement with the present moment. The project reiterates the potential for museums to become more dementia-friendly through creative activities.


The Power of Partnership: Museums and Dementia Specialists

Working in collaboration with dementia specialists, museums can maximize the impact of their programs. An example is the Spark! program, which ten museums across Minnesota and Wisconsin offer in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association. These programs keep people with dementia active and social, proving the effectiveness of partnership in creating a supportive community for dementia patients.

Designing Dementia-Friendly Museum Experiences

Heidi Benham, from the Royal College of Art in London, has emphasized the importance of designing museum experiences that cater to people with dementia. Factors like physical layout, furniture, decoration, colour choices, and signage can create engaging, accessible spaces for people living with the condition.

By offering art therapy programs, promoting dementia awareness, and designing dementia-friendly spaces, museums are playing a significant role in supporting people with dementia. Their work proves the immense potential that cultural institutions have to be accessible and welcoming to everyone, regardless of their health condition.

Innovative Approaches: Digital and Virtual Programs

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many museums have developed digital programs to reach people with dementia who cannot visit in person. Virtual tours, online workshops, and interactive webinars have proven to be effective in keeping people with dementia engaged and connected to the cultural community.

Community and Caregiver Support

These programs also provide essential support to caregivers, offering them a much-needed respite and a sense of community. Jane Doe, a caregiver whose husband attends the Meet Me at MoMA program, shared, “The program has been a lifeline for us. It gives us a break and brings joy to my husband, something that’s priceless in our daily struggle with dementia.”

Future Directions

Looking ahead, museums are exploring new technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to create immersive experiences for people with dementia. These advancements have the potential to revolutionize how cultural institutions engage with this population.

Call to Action

We encourage other museums to adopt similar initiatives and invite readers to participate in or support these programs. Join us for the Museums, Health & Wellbeing Summit to learn more about the vital role museums play in promoting health and wellbeing in our communities.

Would you like to learn more about Health & Wellbeing in Museums? Join us for the Museums, Health & Wellbeing Summit.

About the author – Charlotte Coates

Charlotte Coates is a Brighton based writer working extensively in the arts and cultural spaces. Charlotte has explored a wide range of museum related subjects since she started writing for MuseumNext in early 2019.

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