Hosting a dementia-friendly Christmas party

Categories: Community Engagement.
Royal Albert Museum & Art Gallery 

Next week the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter is hosting a Victorian-themed Christmas party for people with dementia, but what goes into making sure an event is dementia-friendly? ehospice spoke to the museum’s engagement officer Ruth Gidley to find out.

A Vintage Victorian Christmas will include carol-singing by local schoolchildren, hot drinks and cake, and the chance to look around a photographic exhibition about the West Country during the First World War.

Part of the venue will be decorated to recreate a Victorian parlour, a theme chosen to pay homage to the museum’s history as it celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. “That area of the museum will feel special and enjoyable to be in” Ruth explains. “We want to share that with different audiences, that it is a space that will provide activities for families and general visitors, but we wanted to make sure that people [with dementia] would feel especially comfortable coming to something they know is dementia-friendly, in the sense that it is going to be a safe, welcoming space.”

Ensuring the event is suitable for people with the condition, which affects around 850,000 people in the UK, has a lot to do with providing an environment where they will feel comfortable. “A lot of the emphasis is on everybody having a chance to interact in whatever way they are able to, and it being a shared experience in the museum” she explains.

“Our space is accessible, we have toilets that anybody can get to, we have a cafe that anybody can use, we have level surfaces everywhere, and everybody you come into contact with will be patient, welcoming and not be rushing you. It is a space for people to share, come together and where they will be treated respectfully.”

The museum runs regular events for people with dementia, including art classes and tailored tours of exhibitions. “In our dementia-friendly activities we try to provide for a range of senses” Ruth says. “We have a lot of visitors who may have visual or hearing issues, so we try to cater to for a range of symptoms.”

“We find that music is effective in some of our regular monthly activities. We might use sound recordings, and sometimes we use nature recordings. We find object handling especially effective, where people use their sense of touch.”

A Vintage Victorian Christmas will be less interactive than these events, but Ruth says there is an audience for these too. “Some people worry they might be put on the spot even though it is in a very comfortable way and nobody is under pressure to speak if they do not want to or are not able to.”

“We wanted to do something we thought would be more approachable, so music, tea and cake might encourage people to visit the café, and they might have the confidence to come back another day for another kind of activity. It is another way of getting people to engage with the museum and with the dementia-friendly programme.”

“We invited the school choir to come because a lot of people find it invigorating being around a mixture of ages. It is really valuable for the children to be able to share what they have been rehearsing with people in the community, and to know that they are providing something that will give people pleasure.”

A Vintage Victorian Christmas takes place on December 13. For more information visit Royal Albert Memorial Museum