How Museums Are Reaching Out to People With Dementia
July 01 2023
By Charlotte Coates
As dementia continues to affect 50 million people globally, with almost 10 million new cases every year, museums around the world are proactively reaching out to individuals living with this condition. The US alone accounts for around five million people with age-related dementia. Experts predict that every sixth woman and tenth man above 55 will develop some form of dementia.
Understanding Dementia: A Global Challenge
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.
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.
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.