Research project is nominated for Dementia Friendly Award

12 August 2015

A research project that challenges the traditional approach to wellbeing activities offered to people with dementia has been selected as a finalist for a national Dementia Friendly Award.

Canterbury Christ Church University, Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery and the Alzheimer’s Society of Kent and Medway have been working together on an 18 month project to better understand the wellbeing value of handling museum objects for people with early and mid-stages of different types of dementia.

Museum work with older people, and particularly those with dementia, is often based on reminiscence activities, which have recently been shown to have questionable benefit for people with dementia and can create stress for them and their carers. This research project challenges assumptions about focusing on the past and presents a different approach by aiming to create ‘new learning’ opportunities rather than memory recollection. 

Dr Paul Camic, Professor of Psychology and Public health at the University’s Salomon’s Centre for Applied Psychology, explained: “This has been the largest study, to date, to show statistically significant results that handling and talking about museum objects improved the wellbeing of our participants, which includes increased confidence, optimism, interest and happiness.

“This new method of learning is very different to the traditional sector approach of engaging people with dementia with activites that rely on reminiscence and access to memory. Our new learning model focuses on immediate learning or ‘learning in the moment’.

“Understanding the positive wellbeing impact that ‘in the moment’ activities can have is extremely important because it can provide family members and professional carers with information about what activities are cognitively stimulating, creative, emotionally engaging and appropriately challenging, without relying on reminiscence, previous knowledge or memory, which sometimes can cause stress and upset for the person with dementia, and subsequently their carers. Engaging with people with dementia should be more than just about reminiscence.”

These hands-on interactive sessions saw museum objects given to participants, followed by discussions to engage with them and encourage them to talk about the objects they were given. Before and after each session each participant took part in an easy to use wellbeing assessment tool.

Participants largely showed a marked and statistically significant positive change in overall wellbeing scores following the object handling session. People with both early stage and moderate dementia showed positive increases, regardless of the type of dementia, but those with early stage dementia showed larger positive increases in wellbeing.

Professor Camic continued: “The results mean that we can feel confident that most people with early to middle stage dementia will experience a positive wellbeing impact from handling museum objects in a supportive group environment, either at a museum or at a day care centre. Future research will look at people with more severe dementia living in care homes to see if this type of activity might be helpful to them. However, our ‘new learning model’ challenges some of the sector’s assumptions about reminiscence activities.”

Jeremy Kimmel, Audience Development Officer for the Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery, is now developing a toolkit based on the research from the project for small and medium size museums to use.

Jeremy said: “This project, which used minimal museum resources or staff time, actively avoided using a ‘reminiscence’ model, and instead focused on ‘new learning’. This was Professor Camic’s particular areas of interest, and the more I understood about Dementia the more I realised how limiting reminiscence-focused sessions, often a staple of museum services, could actually be. They do not address someone’s present creativity or curiosity. Culture, and the appreciation of it, is one of the key factors that makes us human. It crosses all boarders, and speaks to the very nature of our humanity. It peaks our curiosity and engages our inherent love of aesthetics. 

“This project taught me that our curiosity can never truly be taken from us, and that is a very comforting thing indeed.”

Kate Sergeant, Services Manager for Alzheimer’s Society Kent and Medway, added: “This was an excellent experience of partnership working, with each partner bringing their own area of expertise to the project.

“A group from our Day Support services took part in the project, visiting the museum and handling unusual objects, such as a tiger skull or a Stone Age hand axe. There is great engagement, excitement and a real sense of discovery from the people who come to these sessions. The activities also helped to improve their wellbeing, and they freely expressed their thoughts and feelings about the objects and their responses to them.”

“Our Day Support services are designed to help people live well with dementia, providing cognitive stimulation by engaging in meaningful and enjoyable activities. This project delivered on every level and we look forward to our continuing working with our partners to ensure people with dementia continue to live well and be part of our communities.”

'More than reminiscence: museum object handling, dementia and new learning' has been nominated for the Best Dementia Friendly Partnership Working category, Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friendly Awards 2015. The awards recognise and celebrate the work within communities that is contributing to more positive experiences and improving the lives of people living with dementia, their families, carers and communities. For more information on Dementia, help or advice visit www.alzheimers.org.uk

Notes to Editor

Canterbury Christ Church University is a modern university with a particular strength in higher education for the public services.

With almost 18,000 students across Kent and Medway, its courses span a wide range of academic and professional subject areas.

  • 95% of our UK undergraduates were in employment or further studies six months after completing their studies*.
  • We are one of the South East’s largest providers of education, training and skills leading to public service careers.

*2013/14 Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey

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Last edited: 05/12/2017 03:32:00