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Living Each Season

This Roman figurine of a flying bird is in RAMM's Antiquities collection.

Case study

The challenges

  • The West Country around RAMM is home to large numbers of older people, both long-time residents and retirees, some of whom will be affected by dementia. In Devon alone, the Alzheimer’s Society estimated that 13,847 were living with the illness in 2013.
  • Museum objects can provide the perfect stimulus to experience and talk about the moment
  • Carers and people with dementia are welcomed as equals together.

The background

RAMM is working to become more dementia-friendly, both for the general public and in its services for targeted groups. Museums offer a safe, fun and yet stimulating place for people at all stages of life. Objects can spark memories and conversations which reinforce the personal identity of people with dementia for themselves and those around them.

Research by Newcastle University and University College London, among others, demonstrates that museum projects can have a significant impact on people’s wellbeing.

The project

RAMM's Living Each Season offers a combination of object-handling sessions, creative activities and gallery tours inspired by groudbreaking methodology from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York

Conversations are themed around the seasons. A summer session might examine shells and preserved sea creatures; wooden carvings and paintings of trees could be appropriate for autumn; winter can focus on Arctic peoples or cosy textiles; and spring combines well with stuffed birds and flower motifs from other times and places.

The nature theme and the eclectic mix of artefacts is engaging for people of any age and cultural background. Carers are invited too, and sessions provide a rare opportunity for couples to experience something on an equal level, in an uplifting and supportive atmosphere.

Objects sometimes trigger memories from the past, but the emphasis is on the moment.

Groups often engage with serious contemporary issues such as environmental change, which provides a platform for people with memory loss to be active citizens. Comments from some sessions have been incorporated into the museum’s online collections database.

“Living Each Season” follows the ethos of 19th-century American philosopher and nature writer Henry David Thoreau, who wrote, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”

RAMM's dementia-friendly services have been shaped since 2013 by feedback from people with dementia and their caregivers and advice from NHS representatives, the Alzheimers Society and Innovations in Dementia, a national consultancy working to improve provisions for and attitudes towards people with dementia.

RAMM has piloted tailormade talking photo albums which provide pictures of objects alongside recordings of conversations, museum information, birdsong and poetry.

What do people say?

“People ask me why enjoy myself, if I’m only going to forget it. I say why not enjoy myself, even if I forget it…. I’ve loved every minute.” Participant

“Being close to real objects is wonderful. It makes you think about the people who made them.” Participant

“It’s about tapping into what people can do rather than what they can’t.” Carrie Clarke, occupational therapist, NHS Franklyn Hospital.

“Thank you so much for our Living Each Season project. What an inspiration you and your staff are. It was such an enjoyable experience, and... has given [us] much to discuss at home." Wife of participant

What next?

The museum plans to open dementia-friendly sessions to the public from Summer 2015 and is seeking funding to develop self-led activities for visitors with dementia and their relatives.

RAMM continues to work with the NHS Franklyn Hospital in Exeter, which has a dementia assessment ward, and is exploring the potential for closer collaboration with social care commissioners.

For further information

Please contact Ruth Gidley, Community Participation Officer, RAMM