A museum’s mission is to be at the heart of the local community. Lowewood Museum’s Development Officer, Carly Hearn, gives an insight into the creation of memory boxes – which when used as part of reminiscence therapy can help reconnect a person with their identity. The project was supported through funding by Broxbourne Borough Council, Epping Forest District Council and Hertfordshire Association of Museums.
Have you ever visited your local museum? Do you know what services they provide for older people? Lowewood Museum in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, is one of many museums playing a supportive role to residential and nursing homes providing outreach work which uses their collection in productive and meaningful ways. In 2015, the Lowewood Museum launched a set of memory boxes containing nostalgic objects for local care homes and community organisations.
Memory boxes are often used for reminiscence therapy, helping to reconnect a person with their identity and to improve communication, mood and overall wellbeing. Reminiscence therapy encourages social interaction by giving people the opportunity to share stories and experiences through a fun and stimulating activity. It also helps to bring together people of different backgrounds and generations, often helping to improve relationships between carers and the older person. The Cochrane Collaboration Review on reminiscence therapy for dementia showed that for 144 of the participants studied, there was evidence to show that reminiscence therapy improved cognition, mood and general behavioural function.
Lowewood Museum is not alone with this as many museums across the country offer memory boxes which are often free to hire. These easy to use low-cost boxes, filled with memory-jogging objects, can have a significant impact on someone’s wellbeing and evidence has also shown that reminiscence therapy can also significantly reduce care-giver strain when family carers are also involved (Thorgrimsen, 2002).
Joint reminiscence work involving people with dementia and their family care givers is a good example of relationship-centred care (Wood B, Spector AE, Jones CA, Orrell M, Davies SP, 2005) and evidence has shown that reminiscence therapy can assist in the reduction of depression in older people without dementia. (Bohlmeijer, 2003). Involving carers and older people without dementia in both the development and delivery of the boxes was vital for Lowewood’s project, as from the outset it was essential to recognise the central role played by volunteers and carers in nursing and residential care. With the ever increasing demand on care home staff, the Museum offered a base for community groups to work together producing a set of memory boxes which they could take ownership of, helping to promote to more individuals.
For Lowewood’s project, volunteers from the Lea Valley University of the Third Age (U3A) were recruited to help develop the boxes, working alongside staff from local nursing home, Quantum Care’s Belmont View, flexi care and independent living provider, B3Living, visual impaired organisation, Vision4Growth and speech and language therapy group, Cheshunt Aphasia, helping to ensure the boxes met the needs of their residents and group members. By working with Visual Impaired Organisation, Vision4Growth and speech and language support group, Cheshunt Aphasia, the Museum ensured expert advice was sought for residents in care who had suffered strokes, or other causes of speech and sight impairment. All those involved received training from a reminiscence specialist on how to use reminiscence therapy in person-centred care.
The final result produced four boxes which incorporated objects from the 1930s onwards appealing to both men and women, arranged in themes including Home Sweet Home, Out on the Town, When We Were Young, and Happy Days. Each box also comprised a support pack for care staff, which includes cue cards for discussion prompts and feedback sheets for sharing reminiscence session ideas between care homes. Popular items within the boxes that have helped to un-lock memories and stimulate discussions include cat’s cradle, Dinky Toys, a school milk bottle, Punch and Judy puppets, seaside postcards, dress and knitting patterns, sunlight soap, men’s razors and ladies hair curlers. We were also careful to include more recent items from the 1970s and 1980s for use with younger residents and people living with early onset dementia. All items were relatively inexpensive, sourced online or through car boot sales and local donations. Within three months of their launch the boxes were fully booked by local care homes and community groups, used in reminiscence sessions by over 300 people. Lowewood Museum has built on this initial success to develop new reminiscence based resources and support for care homes, including reminiscence sessions and tea and chat sessions at the Museum.
‘Home Sweet Home worked very well with our residents and staff alike! Our residents shared their memories as the items prompted long forgotten thoughts. There was much laughter at some of the stories told. The residents enjoyed talking to the younger members of staff and teaching them about life in past times – that was empowering for them. Thank you.’
St Catherine’s Care Home, Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. Lowewood Museum’s Home Sweet Home Memory Box.
One of the care homes making use of the boxes is St Catherine’s in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. Activity and Lifestyle Facilitator, Carol Kerr, first used the boxes in a group setting, sitting with residents and selecting objects one at a time. Carol spoke of how the objects prompted many memories with the residents, with many stating, “I had one of those” and “‘I haven’t seen one of those for years”. Carol also said that ‘some of our younger member of staff had never seen some of the items before and so it empowered our residents, to be able to explain to them what their uses were’. Carol went on to explain how the room was filled with laughter and how a lovely afternoon was spent reminiscing and sharing stories.
Carol also used the memory boxes with individuals in a quieter setting. Ellie who is 87 prefers to sit in a quiet lounge and carers often find it hard to interest and engage her in any activity. However, when a member of staff walked into the lounge wearing the old fashioned apron, (or pinny as they called it!), Ellie threw her head back and laughed. “I used to wear one of those” she said, and remained cheerful and was happy to look through the box. The staff found this very rewarding.
Lowewood Museum’s memory boxes are available to hire for groups. They can be borrowed free of charge – for more information contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01992 445596.
Using memory boxes in person-centred care is an inexpensive resource offering meaningful results. With the ever-increasing pressure on care home staff to fulfil their daily tasks, it is perhaps their local museum who can offer the support in the development of reminiscence resources. If you haven’t visited your local museum, why not find out where it is and see what they have to offer in terms of resources and support for your care home? A museum’s mission is to be at the heart of its local community, as a main hub helping to bring together local communities, groups and individuals of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. Museums should exist as a place to offer all individuals the opportunity to explore and re-connect with the past and thus can play a crucial role in supporting nursing and residential care homes with the objects they collect and the vibrant outreach work they offer.
Wood B, Spector AE, Jones CA, Orrell M, Davies SP (2005) Reminscence Therapy for Demntia. The Cochrane Collaboration Review.
L Thorgrimsen, P Schweitzer, M Orrell (2002) Evaluating reminiscence for people with dementia: a pilot study. The Arts is Psychotherapy.
Bohlmeijer E, Smit F, Cuijpers P (2003) Effects of reminiscence and life review on late-life depression: a meta-analysis. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
Museum of Liverpool (2012) An evaluation of National Museums Liverpool: Dementia Training Programme