North East museums nostalgia sessions help dementia sufferers

Taken from a summer news bulletin

When Beamish museum was conceived back in the early 1070s I don’t think anyone would have thought that some many people would have entered the gates. They certainly did not consider the fact that so many people with dementia would go and get so much from it.

We now see Beamish Museum and Projects being run by Tyne and Wear Archives & Museums are leading the way in helping dementia sufferers researchers have revealed

Beamish engagement officer Michelle Ball

Beamish Museum

North East museums are leading the way in pioneering projects helping dementia sufferers with the power of nostalgia.

Working with Age UK, the Alzheimer’s Society and care homes staff at museums across the county are turning to hoards of memorabilia to improve the health and wellbeing of people with the condition.

Having studied the impact of such reminiscent sessions, researchers are now looking at how the projects could be rolled out countrywide.

Revealed today, the research has found the initiatives help dementia sufferers recall memories of sports teams from yesteryear, popular cafes that no longer exist and housing developments of the 1960s,

Nuala Morse of Durham University has spent more than two years studying the effect of projects being run by Tyne and Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM).

She said: “We are looking at how we can come up with a framework so this way of working can be applied on a more broad level in others parts of the country.

“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.

“In Tyne and Wear outreach workers at the museums do a lot of work with care homes and people with dementia which involve handling kits filled with nostalgic items. The idea is that handling these objects can spark memories.

A lot of the evidence is anecdotal and in that moment, in that hour, staff are seeing that what they are doing is making a difference.”

Largely funded by the museums, the projects aim to encourage reminiscence triggered by photos, films, music and singing along with food and drink.

Dr Ealasaid Munro of Glasgow University, who has been alongside Nuala, said the projects were being developed at a time when the NHS nationally has been asked to clawback £20m.

He added: “These projects 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.”

Bill Griffiths, head of programming at TWAM said: “We are committed to working with healthcare partners to unleash the power of museum collections to have a positive impact on people’s lives.”

The nostalgia therapy is working well for dementia suffers and elderly people living in County Durham.

Michelle Ball is outreach worker at Beamish Museum which stages sessions in its pit cottage. She said: “Being in that 1940s and 1950s environment with a cup of tea can immediately help people feel comfortable.

“While they may struggle to tell you how they used to wash clothes, when they see the dolly tub they often instantly know how to use it.

“The sessions really help to stimulate and bring memories to people.”

I have seen this museum grow over the years, and even though I now have dementia I really enjoy travelling to see what events are going on.

Many like myself go up to the museum on a regular basis, and I am quite happy wandering around the exhibits all morning or afternoon and never get bored.

People like myself get so much pleasure when they go to this museum, because they can literally go back in time and see things that they remember from earlier years, and in my case I see things that I remember from my childhood years.

As I have just become a Volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Society, I am looking forward to supporting others who have the illness when the Museum has its dementia days.

If you have not been then please look it up, its well worth the effort



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I always say that we may have this illness, but we are all so different.

This is my own daily problems, but I would gladly share anyone elses, if they send them in,

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