Dementia and related ailments affect around 80 % of residents in Danish nursing homes. This large group of consumers is the primary target audience for the “House of Memory” in the open-air museum Den Gamle By (The Old Town) in Aarhus. In this fully interactive space, people with dementia as well as nostalgic souls can experience everyday life in the 1950s. And hopefully, stepping back in time for a while may trigger long-lost memories, which in turn might help lift the fog of dementia and reintroduce some joy into the lives of the visitors. However, many nursing home residents are unable to make the trip to Den Gamle By, let alone venture beyond the familiar environs of their dwellings. For this reason, the project “Art and Culture Together” works towards bringing a similarly rewarding experience to the audience in the comfort of their own homes.
‘We can give people with dementia sensory experiences that aid in recalling memories, which is something the distance would otherwise prevent,’ says Anne Marie Rechendorff, head of Reminiscence Communication at Den Gamle By and sparring partner on “Art and Culture Together”.
The overarching goal is to create a method that can be utilized by a broad range of arts and culture players in order to tap into this forgotten consumer segment. Consequently, the mission serves two purposes: Highlighting the power of culture by bringing joy to people with dementia, and drawing public attention to this uncharted territory.
‘This project stems from an ongoing paradigm shift within the area of dementia,’ explains Maria Tønnersen, partner in Mapia and the attached brand Demensliv, which specializes in dementia on both a scientific and social level. ‘It is all about viewing people with dementia as assets rather than burdens. These people are truly attractive in socio-economic terms – and it is our job to shed light on this.’
Besides Den Gamle By and Demensliv, “Art and Culture Together” comprises five other cultural institutions: The Green Museum, Moesgaard Museum, Viborg Museum, Art Centre Silkeborg Bad, and the non-profit organization Nursing Home Clowns Denmark. Through continuous collaboration between all players, each will eventually create their very own product based on their specific strengths and scope. Naturally, Den Gamle By will delve into history and seek inspiration from their successful “House of Memory”:
‘Our product will be a nursing home visit of up to two hours, featuring one or two of our staff,’ informs Anne Marie Rechendorff. ‘We aim to inspire via sensory experiences and communication by bringing objects that activate the senses. This could be a vintage coffee grinder, which supplies a distinct scent, sound, and feeling of movement when grinding. In addition, we will show a short and simple film that supplements the objects, such as a door opening into a store, thus causing a bell to ring, while adding a narrative and a dynamic visual dimension.’
This meticulous attention to the needs of their particular target audience is a prime example of the increased traction that person-centred care has gained in the past decade. As a result, the cultural institutions are able to tailor the experience to a specific segment, thus ensuring massive immersion that can for instance stimulate the recollection of an immense amount of memories in the minds of the nursing home residents.
‘The project will surely reinforce the current consensus that culture is health-promoting,’ affirms Maria Tønnersen. ‘Hopefully, this will lead to a decreased reliance on anti-psychotic medicine for people with dementia. That medication is indeed effective, but it also negatively affects the ability to walk and eat, and even mortality rates.’
The coalition has been working on the project for nearly a year, and from the perspectives of both Den Gamle By and Demensliv, the outlook is very promising. They expect the final product will be ready to launch in 2024. Anne Marie Rechendorff hopes it will prove that museums are able to take on social responsibility in society:
‘Since culture has a healing effect, we as purveyors of culture are determined to develop many different products that can help improve the well-being and quality of life both among people with dementia as well as other groups with special needs.’
These future goals spark agreement in Maria Tønnersen, who also emphasizes the importance of the societal discourse on dementia in general:
‘We, as a society, need to apply validity to the area of dementia in order to harness the publicity and prioritization that will lead to improved conditions within the field. Nursing homes need to tell their good stories, of which there are many, and then hopefully people will remember how crucial it is to prioritize dementia research and care.’
“Art and Culture Together” is supported by Central Denmark Region.