Supporting the wellbeing of people living with dementia

A Covid case study from the Museum of London
Older People
Amy Eastwood and Marina Spiteri
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Screenshot of the London Lives podcasts
Screenshot of the London Lives podcasts

Memories of London, developed by the Museum of London, aims to promote the wellbeing of those living with dementia. We offer a sensory onsite programme and an extensive outreach programme with community/health partners.

Memories of London is part of our aim to be an inclusive and accessible museum and create a dementia-friendly London.

The Covid-19 crisis has acutely highlighted the plight of our older generation. Dementia is the most common pre-condition to Covid-19 deaths with an additional surge of non-virus related deaths due to enforced isolation.

Lockdown brought considerable challenges including lack of digital access, loneliness and the immediate closure of vital wellbeing initiatives. 

Despite lockdown restrictions easing in London, limitations still remain for this audience and our work has become more urgent than ever before. Our programme has always been informed and guided by those affected by dementia and our response to the pandemic is no different.

We continually undertake consultation with our dementia reference group, community/health partners and care homes to assess the changing situation and create resources that aim to genuinely help. Our objectives are to:

  • Reduce loneliness at a time of crisis.
  • Stimulate creativity to promote wellbeing.
  • To connect people to each other and the story of London.

During the pandemic we are developing:

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  • Creative & Connected monthly hard-copy activity booklets.
  • London Lives podcasts with the voices of those affected by dementia.
  • Monthly live online sessions led by artists and open to all.
  • Online sessions led by volunteers for closed groups.

We have faced many challenges in pivoting our programme.

Trying to translate a sensory programme to platforms that don’t permit touch or smell is difficult. We have embedded sensory engagement through various prompts – for example, asking participants to collect herbs to smell in our live sessions – but this has relied on carers to facilitate and necessitated access to resources.

Tailoring our programme to suit different stages of dementia has also been problematic. We have managed this to an extent in our online sessions but due to the demand for our hard copy booklets we have had to make them generic. 

But we have also had multiple successes. Our evaluation has revealed that we are contributing to alleviating loneliness caused by Covid -19. Partners have cited our activity booklets as a ‘godsend’ for those clients who were housebound.

Our evaluation has also revealed that the resources are having a positive impact on wellbeing. Responses reveal that participants feel overwhelmingly ‘happy’ and ‘relaxed’ when engaging with our work and we have successfully connected individuals to each other and with the story of London.

We continue to learn and adapt and will feed our learning into any planning for the future. Key lessons learnt include:

  • Cultural provision is not just a nice add on. It’s essential to combatting social isolation and loneliness.
  • Actively engaging in creative processes through museum learning is vital to wellbeing.
  • A blended approach for remote learning is most effective; digital engagement is ideal for reaching those with advanced dementia who cannot travel, and non-digital resources are critical to those with limited internet access.
  • Co-creation is vital to creating meaningful learning experiences, a sense of connection and community.
  • Cultural institutions have a responsibility to advocate for the vulnerable in society, recognise their contribution to society and offer a way for their voice to be heard, such as our London Lives podcasts.
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Amy Eastwood is the Memories of London programme manager, and Marina Spiteri is the Memories of London programme coordinator at the Museum of London

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