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The value of things in our lives

This video introduces you to a research project that has been developed around object handling, hosted at the Wellcome Collection .
The research project that I’m working on is called ‘Things In Our Lives’, and it’s focusing on the use of different objects. Some of those are from the museum collection and different historical artefacts. And we are using them in a group setting with people with dementia to try and explore what the benefits of using these might be. In the object handling sessions, we invite people to sit around a table in a group. And we had two Visitor Experience Assistants from the Wellcome Collection who were able to bring objects from the museum’s collection to share with the group.
And they very much facilitated the sessions, bringing out objects, sometimes one at a time, handing them around, letting people really have a feel and explore with our hands to bring a multi-sensory experience to the sessions. So we used a number of different methods to try and capture people’s experience during the sessions. We had a questionnaire before and after each session, that asked people to rate how they were feeling in that present moment. Just kind of asking about that general well-being. We had a fluency question where we were asking people to speak for a few minutes about something– it might have been a holiday that they have been on or somewhere that they grew up.
And then we also asked them to wear a wristband on each wrist that could detect heart rate and skin conductance so that we could measure these changes in these throughout the session. Our role was really to come along and facilitate the object handling aspects of it and to choose the objects and plan the three sessions that took place. They gave us quite a lot of freedom actually in facilitating. So I think in the beginning was an idea of them as well participating in the session. But then after discussions we have, they wanted really to see how our experience could bring something different, working already in a museum context.
I think we went for objects that we thought might not have too obvious associations first of all, that were quite varied in texture. Perhaps some of them might make a sound. Some of them you might be able to smell something from them. So something that would appeal to all the senses. Theory suggests that with that added sensory component of touch, that we may process these objects on a kind of a deeper level within the brain that can enhance our experience of them, enhance our learning of them. There were four or five items on the table. And we had to decide what they were, what age they were, or whether they were replicas and things like that.
Every time you go to a museum or an art gallery, that’s what you do anyhow. But it was very interesting. My favourite was a black– I think it was quartz or something– a slice. And I almost flippantly said it reminded me of sort of black magic and mirrors and things. You know “Who’s the fairest of them all?” And in fact, that’s what it was. It was a very early mirror used for clairvoyance and things. There were a lot of preconceptions I had about people with dementia. Just actually working with them was quite startling and surprising because they were so observant and creative in the way they worked with the objects.
One of the reasons for getting involved in something like this is that you have a sort of routine, you’ve got something you’re going to, and you get out. Otherwise… you don’t want to concentrate on dementia the whole time, but you don’t want to just sort of ignore it completely, which is what it’s tempting to do. So something like this is interesting. And you see other people with the same problem, which is very helpful. Because I wouldn’t have known that any of the other three had– and people are always saying to me, you made a mistake. You haven’t got it because I can talk to you. And then they expect you to be in the last stages of comprehension.
I think lots of research in dementia has been focused on more interventions that can be done within the clinic, such as cognitive stimulation therapy, different ways of approaching strategies to compensate for some of the losses that people with dementia experience. And I think this project and research into the creative arts is a really important avenue to extend dementia care out into the community, and really actually think about the quality of life that people living with dementia have. And using those resource in the community to help people to keep engaged with their environment and to keep learning, experiencing new things at a time where there may be a lot of loss.

This step delves deeper into object handling for people living with dementia.

In this video you will be introduced to a research project that has been developed around object handling, hosted at the Wellcome Collection and will hear perspectives from a trainee clinical psychologist, museum staff, and a participant who were all involved in the project.

You will hear about:

  • Some of the methods that were used to capture people’s experiences.
  • The skills that the museum visitor experience team were able to bring to the sessions.
  • How object handling can lead to multi-sensory stimulation.
  • Motivations from a participant who lives with dementia for joining the group.

Whilst watching this video, we encourage you to think about how local resources in your own community could be used to engage people living with dementia. If you have any thoughts on this that you would be happy to share, please do so in the comments.

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Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives

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