Creating resources for dementia patients

A case study from Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums
Older People
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Rebecca Atkinson
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A selection of postcards sent to care home residents during lockdown
A selection of postcards sent to care home residents during lockdown

The Platinum Programme is Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums’ (Twam) outreach programme for people over 55.

Examples of our pre-Covid work includes:

  • Slow Museums led by slowshopping.org.uk, which trained staff and created a welcoming dementia-friendly environment in our venues.
  • Training staff to become Dementia Friends.
  • Museum staff visiting to care homes and dementia hospital wards with objects to help stimulate conversations and memories.
  • Creating museum displays in care homes.
  • Welcoming dementia organisations into our venues.
  • Working with physiotherapists, nurses and occupational therapists to develop resources and activities such as "food through time" and "Roman herb garden" for carers to use.
  • Our Time Travellers Dementia Museum Group with Age UK
  • Cognitive stimulation therapy sessions with museum objects.

The Covid pandemic and resultant lockdown has had a major impact on this work, and we have had to adapt our ways of working. Our response includes:

  • Writing and sending postcards of artwork from our galleries to more than 600 residents in 24 local care homes. We also created a freepost address for participants to write back if they want to.
  • Launching our Museums Health and Social Care Service Resource packs to care homes. We have used Zoom to share these resources with participants.
  • Continuing to train staff in Dementia Friends online.

Feedback from the postcard project has been positive, with care home staff reporting that residents are really happy to hear from us. One 93-year-old lady replied with her childhood memories of Shipley Art Gallery.

Sheila Thornton, who is the lifestyle coordinator at the the Manor care home in Gosforth, Newcastle Upon Tyne, said: “All the residents on the dementia unit still have the postcards and they are displayed on their bookcase and we do talk about the postcards to the residents it is a nice conversation with a cup of tea

“The residents on our residential floor do appreciate the cards you have sent again they are still displayed in their rooms, they all thought it was a wonderful of you to take the time to send them and they do appreciate it.”

One of the challenges was working out how to get postcards to museum staff and how to get them to care homes during lockdown. We worked out the approximate postage costs and sent staff members a pack with postcards, envelopes, various stamps and kitchen scales so they could work out the price of sending a postcard package.

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We hoped to help combat isolation/boredom during lockdown by engaging with people who had little contact with family and friends outside the home.

Going forward, we are developing more activities such as online and in-person training, short instructional films, venue visits, teaching for nursing students and activity loans boxes. 

Twam in partnership and Northumbria University will also be launching a new resource that supports health and social care professionals to use museums as part of a care practice when working with older people

The resource suggests heritage activities and identifies how these activities could specifically support quality of life, health and wellbeing in older people. Uniquely, it features searchable clinical and care outcomes that have been coded to categories such as: physical/mobility, social, cognitive/knowledge/learning and mindful/emotional.  

The resource, which will form the start of a new long-term Museums, Health and Social Care Service, was overseen by a steering group of health and social care practitioners and academics specialising in occupational therapy, physiotherapy mental health nursing, social work and older people’s nursing. 

It cross-references specific cultural activities that the Twam outreach team is delivering to participants as part of our health and wellbeing programmes, with the clinical outcomes that can be attributed to those kinds of activities. In doing this, the team aims to help health and social care professionals make the connections to the outcomes for their patients. 

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