Museums are using their artefacts to improve the health and wellbeing of dementia sufferers according to research presented at the Royal Geographical Society international conference in London.
Creative projects are helping dementia sufferers recall memories of local sports teams from yesteryear, popular cafes that no longer exist and housing developments of the 1960s, Nuala Morse of Durham University and Dr Ealasaid Munro of Glasgow University told the conference.
Projects at Glasgow Museums and Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) are being developed to reach out to individuals being failed elsewhere, particularly as a result of spending cuts to vital healthcare services.
By rooting themselves in the local community, museums are also opening up new streams of income in an increasingly restrictive funding environment.
Said Dr Munro: “In a time of national austerity, museums have to prove their relevance and to show that they are contributing to a healthier and happier society."
Projects, primarily paid for by the core museum funding, are tailored to individual needs. They aim to encourage reminiscence, which is triggered by visual objects such as pictures, photos and films; audio through music, singing and sounds; smells and tastes – perfume, food and drink; and movement – the use of everyday objects.
Dementia sufferers and carers work together on these projects and their communication skills can be improved as a result. Participation can also improve confidence and self-esteem for carers and sufferers, who may then both become more resilient against the challenges they face in their day-to-day lives.
Ms Morse said: "This is new territory for museums, who are still learning how best to carry out these projects. It is vital that they come up with creative ways to enhance dementia sufferers' quality of life, as well as helping to change people's perceptions of what dementia sufferers are capable of."