North East museums nostalgia sessions help dementia sufferers

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

Beamish Museum Beamish engagement officer Michelle Ball with Ellen, a resident at Appletree Grange in Birtley
Beamish engagement officer Michelle Ball with Ellen, a resident at Appletree Grange in Birtley

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.”

Nuala will present her findings today at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

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