For people living with dementia, a visit to a gallery or museum may seem like an insurmountable feat. Worries over finding their way around, where the loos or cafe will be, potentially dealing with big crowds – all these things can sap the confidence and prevent people from attempting to visit – even if they were previously an arts lover. It is doubly sad that this should be the case, as exposure to the arts has been proven to increase wellbeing and cognitive functioning. With around 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, the audience for dementia-friendly museums and galleries is enormous – and that’s without counting the carers who will accompany them.
Happily, there are an increasing number of venues across the UK that offer dementia-friendly tours, guides or surroundings. This can range from the simplest of resources – a trained staff member who understands the challenges that dementia presents – to some quite awe-inspring dementia programmes, designed to help elders get the very most out of a trip to a museum.
One of these is found at the Museum of Liverpool, where its House of Memories Dementia Awareness programme runs everything from weekly themed drop-in events for older visitors to an innovative free app that allows people to explore objects from the past and share memories together. Objects include everyday things such as cinema tickets, a Singer sewing machine and a 10 shilling note. Find out more about the app here.
Over in Exeter, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, which was a finalist in the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia-Friendly Awards of 2016, offers dementia-friendly tours, behind-the-scenes visits to handle museum objects, and art activities for people with dementia and carers. Monthly events led by specially trained staff are designed to be enjoyable for both people with dementia and carers, and include an illustrated information sheet to take home and carry on the conversation.
Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery has been hosting its ‘Arts and Minds’ project since 2014, a twice monthly arts session for people living with mild memory loss of early stage dementia, and their companion. Led by a group of artists and a Museum Learning Officer with specialist dementia training, the sessions are underpinned by the collections and exhibitions. The group not only produces wonderful art and craft work but it’s a chance to relax, laugh and meet others on a regular basis over tea, biscuits or cake! The museum is also careful to provide useful resources for elderly visitors to its collections. ‘‘Having staff trained and on hand to assist and often just to meet and greet visitors with additional needs can make a world of difference to a successful museum visit,’ said Joanne Gray, the Learning Development Officer. (Please note that the museum is currently closed for refurbishment, but the Arts and Minds project still meets at the Guildhall twice-monthly). Find out more here.
To find out more about museums and galleries near you with a focus on dementia-friendly events, see the arts4dementia website here.