SINGAPORE: More museums in Singapore are introducing programmes for visitors with dementia, as the number of those living with the condition rises.
Some 86,000 people here currently have the illness, and experts said this figure could exceed 130,000 by 2030.
At the National Museum of Singapore, there are dementia-friendly senior tours to encourage participants to share their memories with others. These tours are also conducted online for those unable to make a trip down in person.
The museum said it has a wide range of artefacts that resonate with the experiences of many seniors.
As the number of people living with dementia rises, more museums are introducing dementia-friendly programmes for those with the condition. Cherie Lok reports.
WALKING DOWN MEMORY LANE
Ms Matilda Hong, an assistant manager at the National Museum’s curatorial and programmes department, said: “We believe that for persons with dementia, this can be beneficial as they engage with the artefacts, recollect memories and be able to have reminiscent conversations.”
Meanwhile an online arts and memories programme for seniors was launched at the Asian Civilisations Museum this year.
Through the initiative, seniors are led by an art therapist on a virtual guided tour to view objects from the museum’s galleries and engage in conversations about them.
But it's not just artefacts that can trigger such conversations.
Art can help too, with studies showing that such activities can improve the mood, while keeping the mind active.
At the National Gallery Singapore, a new dementia-friendly programme includes a hands-on activity, where participants can put their own personal spin on the artworks they have seen.
In selecting materials for the activities, the museum also considered whether they were easy to use, especially for drawing or moulding.
“These are very simple exercises that a person with dementia who may be having some kind of (difficulty with) fine motor skills, if they find it challenging to use their hands, it's still very simple for them to do,” said Ms Alicia Teng, assistant director of community and access at the National Gallery.
“We realise that through this art engagement, it actually supports them in terms of exercising their hands and refining their fine motor skills.”
Ms Teng added: “We also want to make sure that we work with a group size that is optimal in terms of the attention span, and also the kind of focus the volunteers can have in engaging with persons living with dementia.”
When there are not enough volunteers, caregivers can step in.
For instance, visitors to the National Gallery can pick up a bag of art materials and a caregiver's guide. They come with prompting questions and instructions for activities similar to those done during the group sessions.
The idea is to build up the confidence of the caregivers, so that they can still conduct these activities, even when volunteers are not there to guide them.
Dementia Singapore said it supports turning community spaces like museums into safe environments for dementia patients, as rising cases pile more pressure on hospitals and clinics.
However, it noted that change must go beyond programming.
Ms Koh Hwan Jing, director of community enablement at Dementia Singapore, said: “Many persons living with dementia might find museum spaces quite daunting because they're huge, and usually with very high ceilings. Some places may not have as much lighting as we prefer.
“And usually at museums, persons living with dementia would have to walk fairly long distances to get from one place to another.”
Possible solutions include training staff to respond to the needs of visitors with dementia, having quiet spaces installed around venues and improving directions, especially to exhibits relevant to those with the condition, she said.