International Museum Day – An important day for reminiscence

Written by Active Minds on Tuesday the 18th of June 2013.


Today is International Museum’s Day. There have been a number of great activities and events being held around the country to celebrate it, including the Museums at Night Festival

But there are also some great projects that have been going on in the UK around museums’  longer term participation in providing reminiscence for older people.

One project in particular caught Active Minds’ eye – The Key Memory Project and Wide Skies, and its latest phase, Key Memories in the Community.

The Key Memories Project and a project named Wide Skies were started back in 2008 as intergenerational reminiscence projects.

The Key Memories Project was based around the theme of ‘My First Home’ exploring 1950s post-war homelife. It ran for 18 months and included 5 museums, one for each of the districts in Cambridgeshire.

Wide Skies is an ongoing project principally concerned with the training of volunteers in nine small, volunteer-run museums in order to improve education and learning provision. Reminiscence is a small element of this project.

Both projects aim/ed to involve the delivery of museum-facilitated reminiscence sessions into care settings.

An independent report published in June 2012 after observations on the project had been made in two residential care settings and at one day care centre evaluating participants’ (all of whom had dementia) reactions to museum-facilitated reminiscence sessions, stated that:-

  • highest levels of well-being were noted

  • participants were actively involved in reminiscing

  • museum staff demonstrated skilled and sensitive practise (for example a volunteer discussing war-time memories with a gentleman for whom these were normally traumatic)

  • shared laughter was observed

  • multi-sensory/ promoted action and interaction were particularly successful

  • participants were in control of their own experience due to having free access to the objects involved

Most museums that were involved in the project still facilitate reminiscence and one of the museums decided to embed the principles of reminiscence within its core practice.

The evaluation of the project identified that:

  • the museums and care settings value reminiscence

  • the museums and care settings believe that the museums have a role to play in providing it

  • museums are seen as experts in interpreting historical objects and can help carers in the process of reminiscence therapy as a result

  • the care settings generally favoured facilitated sessions over reminiscence box loans, (and in some instances believed their own staff could learn from watching museum staff and volunteers)

The report states that “Reminiscence is usually a positive and rewarding experience for volunteers; one of the most frequently used phrases was about residents’ ‘eyes lighting up’.”

The full report can be read here.

The newest phase of this ongoing work between museums in the Cambridgeshire area and local care settings is ‘Key Memories in the Community’.

In notes published in April 2013 the project was described as “…a partnership between Cambridge Museums Advisory Partnership, Cambridgeshire County Council Adult Social Care, Cambridgeshire Care Network, St. Neots Museum, The Norris Museum and the Museum of Cambridge, with close involvement from Wide Skies.”

Care Network co-ordinates volunteers who visit older people in their own homes to gather an overview of their life histories to help them draw up a shopping list of items to be purchased for the personalised reminiscence boxes. These boxes will become the personal property of the older people, so if the older person has to go into a care home they can take the box with them, which means care home staff can use the items in the box for individual reminiscence sessions with their new resident. Five boxes have been assembled so far, and one more may be added, which would reach the original target of six. The Project is unique and innovative, in using the current approach in health services of personalised care by developing personalised reminiscence boxes.”

With the pilot project now complete it is hoped that projects just like this one can use the evaluation of The Key Memories Project to extend into other parts of the UK with other museums and care settings (read the most recent article on the closing of the project in the Cambridge News).

It’s clear from the reports on projects like these that museums play an important role in reminiscence activity for older people and for those diagnosed with dementia.

And long may it continue, we say!

Happy International Museum Day.