Memory walls are an exciting new way of providing and using museum objects in dementia care facilities.
In the simplest terms they are walls into which a variety of museum objects are placed so that they can be viewed and/or accessed for handling.
Through this simple premise they are used in several active and subtly engaging ways – aesthetically, to separate bedrooms from other parts of wards, as a divergence strategy, as informal conversation points and formally in reminiscence programmes.
The idea is not new. Stirling University’s Dementia Services Development Centre hosts the original memory wall. During a research visit in March 2014 museum staff realised that there was no guidance available on developing memory walls. Designers and architects have interpreted the original memory wall in different ways for healthcare clients.
The Open Museum is Glasgow Museum’s outreach department. We have a 25 year track record in all kinds of outreach methodologies including our ever popular reminiscence kit service. Through our wide ranging network of partners we were contacted by Glasgow’s Social Work department and asked to help develop a memory wall.
Glenwood Day Care Centre’s memory wall is part of a £2.2m new-build day-care facility. It’s the first of a series of eight new day-care and residential-care facilities in the city.
Museum staff and care staff met to view the open storage at Glasgow Museums.
This part of the process is vital not only to begin developing content jointly but as a way of getting to know colleagues within other organisations.
It is important to understand each others’ roles and identify shared objectives – in this case providing reminiscence opportunities.
We began by developing content around the theme of spring. Annual celebrations like Easter or May Day can help people with dementia recall events at particular times of the year.
This theme approach hasn’t been successful. Instead we have discovered that including objects that are personable in this wall is far more useful.
A personable object has become a way of describing objects associated with home, school or working life. It was coined during an evaluation meeting by a member of staff at Glenwood.
Glenwood uses the memory wall in group and individual engagements with people with dementia. The memory wall is also used with mixed groups providing an opportunity for those with dementia and those without to mix and feel comfortable reminiscing.
Stobhill’s Hospital’s memory wall is very different from Glenwood. Objects are not used for handling. They are larger and have a greater visual impact. Evaluation of the Stobhill memory wall is just underway.
We are hoping to understand the use of memory walls, museum objects and reminiscence in an assessment ward context. So far we have evidence that the memory wall has encouraged people with dementia to discuss other family members rather than just themselves with their family.
Both memory walls are physically different. The variety of audiences that are considered has been surprising. But the aim of supporting those with dementia through engagement with museum objects in ways that meet their needs continues.