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Training cultural institutions to engage with the dementia community

Learn how museums and cultural institutions are well-placed to adopt a more pivotal role in engaging better with the dementia community.
Hannah, for a number of years, has been very interested in training care staff through the arts to better appreciate their understanding of people with a dementia. And when she and I joined Created Out of Mind, there was a terrific opportunity to work with the Wellcome Collection staff to adapt that programme that she had developed to a museum setting. And that’s what we’ve done together. It arose from some training that I had developed with a team at the University of East Anglia in a dementia care home. And that training came about as part of a realisation that even though people work in care homes with people with a dementia, that they may still have misunderstandings and prejudice about the condition dementia.
And that they may not– not through any fault of their own– have had any time to stop and think about the individuals who are living with this condition. So we developed some training for dementia care staff from the Descartes project. And based on that, we realised that it might be usefully extrapolated to other settings. So I have used it with medical students who are often given a very clinical or indeed, medical model through which to understand dementia. And therefore were surprised to get an introduction into the individuals and the kinds of personal experiences that people might have who live with a dementia.
And we used the same training– Professor Camic and I– to develop an education or training for museum staff. Our motivation was because museums are available around the country and there’s several thousand of them, they offer an incredible opportunity for community service for people with a dementia. One of the things that we did over the course of the training was to offer a three-hour fairly intensive workshop and that workshop viewed different arts– from film and drama to music, poetry, and visual arts– and we were hoping to have people think about the dementias differently, as they engaged and listened to these experiences in the arts. Overwhelmingly, we were really pleased that participants found it to be a very meaningful and useful workshop.
So pragmatically, they felt now that they had the ability and skills to interact with someone with a dementia in the museum. And that’s really what we wanted to achieve. It also was helping them to change their perceptions of dementia. That rather than dementias being seen as an illness or a disease where there’s no hope, where the person is left to get on with it themselves that, in fact, we all can– including museum staff– engage with people with dementia. Thinking about the wider repercussions of training programmes, I think one of the important things would be to consider how they can be implemented in museums.
And often, there’s not a great deal of extra cost and it’s more about staff planning, workshops so staff feel that they’re capable and skillful and able to work with someone with dementia. But it might give staff an opportunity to expand their own careers and their own abilities. And that’s why I would encourage not just museums, but other arts and culture organisations to provide staff training so they can be more welcoming institutions in our country.

This step explains how museums and cultural institutions are well-placed to adopt a more pivotal role in engaging better with the dementia community.

Dr Hannah Zeilig and Prof Paul Camic explain how a new training programme that they have developed is able to provide museum staff with the tools to do this more successfully.

This step also highlights how often even those who are trained to work with people living with dementia don’t always have the opportunity to pause and reflect on the nature of the individuals that they help care for or engage with.

Do you know of any cultural institutions that provide engagement opportunities for the dementia community which you would recommend? If so, please remember to share these in the Communal Pinboard at the end of the week.

You may also be interested in the Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friends training programme.

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

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