Move to Action: Programs for Individuals with Alzheimer’s

Yesterday I attended an informative and interesting program hosted by the Museum Access Consortium and the Museum of Modern Art. The focus of the two-hour event, held at the MoMA was “Welcoming People with Alzheimer’s to your Museum.” Essentially, participants learned about Alzheimer’s (a form of Dementia) and examples of on-site, museum programs offered in the local community. Jed Levine, Executive Vice President of the Alzheimer’s Association, New York City Chapter spoke extensively about this disease and it’s various stages.

Individuals in the early and middle stages of the disease are likely to still be quite active and capable of varying levels of communication, self expression and interpretation. Considering this, museums provide a unique environment and  great opportunity for people with Alzheimer’s and their Caregivers to participate in programs that will empower, entice and connect these participants in deep and meaningful ways.

The panel of museum professionals from local art museums discussed their experiences in developing programs for this audience. The following is a brief listing of such considerations:

  • Institutional Support: Will the Board, Museum director support this initiative? Keep in mind your regular staff-participant ratio and remember to include Caregivers and/or family members in you group size.
  • Audience: Is there a need for such programming? With over 5 million American’s living with Alzheimer’s- the need is there. Contacting your local Alzheimer’s Association can help you determine that need more specifically.
  • Environment: Is the environment of your museum conducive to the needs of this audience? The physical space of the museum (taking into consideration that individuals with Alzheimer’s may wander) as well as the time when programs would take place (preferably during the museum’s most quiet times, with fewer distractions and noise as to not intimidate the participants) should be considered.
  • Funding: Do you have the financial means to sustain such programs?
  • Marketing: How will you reach your prospective participants? It was noted during this program that the Alzheimer’s Association is a key resource in getting in touch with these individuals. Also, it may be beneficial to contact staff from local museums and organizations who currently offer such programs as you may be able to provide mutual marketing support.

Only a personal assessment of available resources will determine if such programming is feasible. What was particularly moving for me was the personal story of a Caregiver and her experience attending the Meet Me At MoMA at the Museum of Modern Art with her husband. She mentioned that while he was not exactly an art enthusiast, the program became something they both looked forward to and later recalled. For Caregivers, who are typically family members, an opportunity to deeply connect with their fellow loved one is something that may not occur as often (especially as Alzheimer’s progresses). It was inspiring to hear that after her husband passed away, it was these positive memories she carried especially close with her.

While the following art museums offer innovative and interactive programs for this audience, other types of museums may also be able to utilize its collection and space to benefit individuals with Alzheimer’s and their Caregivers.

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, offers Met Escapes, free programs on particular Sundays and Wednesdays of each month for individuals living with dementia, their family members and caregivers. Program components include tours and art-making workshops.
  • Folk Art Reflections is an interactive, discussion-based program offered at the American Folk Art Museum, NY. This free program is offered the third Thursday of each month.
  • The MoMA has an on-site, free program entitled Meet Me at MoMA and also launched their Alzheimer’s Project, a “nationwide expansion of the Museum’s outreach program for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.”
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