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The story in the suitcase

The story in the suitcase


Museums are meant to store memories.

That was the thinking behind the House of Memories, a new dementia awareness training program developed by National Museums Liverpool in the U.K.

The House of Memories program is made up of a series of activities and resources aimed at the caregivers of people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. They are designed to help caregivers better communicate with their loved ones using old artifacts, images and stories.

As dementia progresses, those affected lose their short-term memory. But often they maintain long-terms memories of childhood and growing up. House of Memories aims to help people access those memories.

One element of the program, for example, is “memory suitcases,” preassembled suitcases that the museum rents out filled with historical items. Each case holds within it documents such as old posters and rations cards, or objects such as wartime nylons and carbolic soap — used for its distinct smell. Caregivers are encouraged to use these items to spark conversation with their loved ones about long-term memories they may have. Suitcases can be rented out for free, two weeks at a time.

At the museum itself, organized “memory walks” take caregivers and those with dementia around the building to examine old objects and images. The free tours are meant to give participants the chance to share memories and stories.

The program, which took three years to build, was developed with the help of care workers, families and others involved with dementia. Using feedback from conversations with those touched by the disease, and £800,000 in grants, National Museums Liverpool devised a training program to help caregivers use their resources effectively.

The training, which is also free and takes place over the course of one day, instructs caregivers on how to make the most of tools such as the memory suitcases, as well as showing them how to do guided tours of the museum.

For those who don’t live in Liverpool, the museum has also developed an app, which features hundreds of pictures of objects from the 1920s-‘80s. Each image includes facts and background information about the item. Caregivers can use the app to stimulate memory and conversation, and users can create personal profiles, and save images to look at again later.

The program has been growing in popularity, and so far, over 5,000 caregivers have been trained across England.

“We train carers to use everyday items from the past to stimulate conversation,” Carol Rogers, executive director for Education and Communities at National Museums Liverpool told The Telegraph. “Many people may forget their name or who family members are, but then be stimulated by seeing a ration card or holding a dinky toy. It helps families talk normally again, which can ease the strain of visiting.”

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