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The Memory Box

For much of the last decade, Leanne Bell has worked at the Wattle Glen Aged Care Facility in outer Melbourne. There, she and her colleagues tend to residents whose physical and cognitive abilities vary from low to high capacity.

Six years ago, Leanne and the residents under her care took part in a Museum Victoria outreach program designed specifically for Alzheimer and dementia audiences. The impact of the program was positive and profound – so much so, that the program is regularly repeated at Wattle Glen.

Staff from Museum Victoria visit Wattle Glen to deliver presentations that place before the residents a selection of objects, replicas and photographs. Alternatively, the Museum posts a box containing similar items, based around a theme – such as ‘Memories of Childhood’ or ‘Work in the Home’.

The residents sit in a circle. They pass around the objects (kitchen utensils, an iron, a kettle, items from a shed…) and, as they do, the objects stimulate their senses and prompt memories, stories and ideas.

Leanne has worked for several years with residents in different stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s. She likens the effect of these afflictions to a crowded filing cabinet. “The last file in is often the first file out,” she says. “And the first file in, the last file out.”

Meaning: the patient has little short-term memory; what happened yesterday is often already gone. But long-term memories remain, buried somewhere in the unfathomable depths of the brain until prompted by a smell, a photograph or an object of some sort.

“The Museum Victoria program unlocks memories, builds self-esteem and helps maintain communication and cognitive abilities,” says Leanne. “It creates positive emotion.”

“Even if the effects are strongly of the moment – even if the exercise is forgotten tomorrow by those in the circle – the immediate impact is obvious.”

It is, agrees Leanne, like watching a bright burst of sunlight fall unexpectedly from a sky crowded with clouds.    

“I can’t praise the Museum staff or the program more highly,” she says.

Learn more about Museum Victoria outreach programs

One of Museum Victoria's Memory Boxes

Image: courtesy of Museum Victoria

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