A Maori stone tool. Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery

Dementia toolkit for small museums launched

Rebecca Atkinson, 01.10.2015
Research shows object handling boosts wellbeing
Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery has launched a dementia toolkit for small to medium sized museums based on a research project it undertook with the Alzheimer's Society in West Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University.

The two-year project, which was a finalist in the 2015 Dementia Friendly Awards, looked at the effects of object handling on the wellbeing of people with early to mid-stage dementia.

The research found that there were marked and measurable increases in wellbeing after people took part in the object handling.

The toolkit aims to support museums of all sizes that want to develop similar projects. It includes tips on training staff to be dementia friendly, choosing objects and evaluation.

“The project was about doing something that museums excel at – sharing our fantastic collections and stories – but in a dementia-aware way,” said Jeremy Kimmel, Tunbridge Wells Museum’s audience development officer.

“This model of working costs very little money and can be used by anyone, from a small museum with no or just one paid member of staff to a national museum.”

Paul Camic, a professor of psychology and public health at Canterbury Christ Church University, said the Tunbridge Wells Museum project is different to a lot of other dementia work undertaken by museums because it is not focused on reminiscence.

“Feedback I’ve had [from carers] is that they don’t just want reminiscence because it reminds the person of what they have lost,” he said.

The research element of the project measured wellbeing before and after each museum object handling session using a five-point visual analogue scale accessing whether people felt: well; happy; interested; confident; and optimistic.

“The results showed statistically significant improvement in overall wellbeing across total wellbeing scores and on each subscale after the one hour sessions,” Camic said. “The sessions were also shown to be effective across genders and in early and mid-stages of dementia, with an overall higher level of wellbeing in early as opposed to mid-stage dementia.”


Download the dementia toolkit


Sort by: Most recent - Most liked
MA Member
14.10.2015, 15:35
Great work and so good to see object handling back on the agenda. Do also look at the work undertaken by UCL,(Helen Chatterjee "Museums, Health and Well Being" pub. Ashgate). That programme of research came to similar conclusions. So many people can benefit from museums "using" collections in this way- and please don;t forget schoolchildren and their teachers!
MA Member
14.10.2015, 14:59
I would like to applaud the work of all involved in this toolkit. I feel the emphasis on the INDIVIDUAL, for who and how they are NOW, is so important. The reminiscence model, rather than celebrating who the person is NOW and what joy they can continue to bring to the world and those around them, reinforces the idea of 'oh weren't things great in the past when they were NORMAL' (the one word that appears in the toolkit introduction that made me wince - as it reinforces the idea of the dementia sufferer being an 'outsider'). Also bear in mind that an increasing number of younger people (from 20-65) are being diagnosed with dementia and want to continue to live very much in the present - developing, learning and living their lives. While the toolkit is aimed at people with early/middle stage dementia, I have introduced it to the NHS residential home where the person I cared for now lives. They are actively exploring how the toolkit may be used for people in more advanced stages of the disease who, while usually less able to communicate, still derive pleasure and benefit from one-to-one interaction and stimulation though learning.