Remembering the past helps patients with dementia live in the present

An innovative project that encourages patients with dementia to engage with artefacts is helping to reduce distress, support social interactions and re-orientate patients who are disorientated in space and time.


Activity Coordinators at Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) NHS Trust are delivering engagement sessions for patients thanks to Nottingham City Museums and Galleries who are loaning items to the Health Care of Older People wards.

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Themed boxes from the museum’s collection include household items from the past and present, sporting memorabilia, personal care items and toys from childhood.


Jo McAulay, Advanced Practitioner in Older Peoples Mental Health at NUH, said: “The boxes have been a very popular intervention. As soon as we put something out people pick it up and start talking about it. Because it’s so visual and tactile, they can hold it and it prompts more memories than a picture would.

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“The objects also encourage narrative discourse. Everything has a story associated with it, and it’s great to share people’s stories.


“There are numerous benefits to this type of exercise. The positive engagement can minimise the risk of falls, it can mitigate against apathy and prevent deterioration in wellbeing, mobility and cognition.”

Nurses work with the activity coordinators to identify patients who may benefit from the sessions. The 45 minute sessions are held twice a week and for those who cannot attend the group sessions the activity coordinators provide one-to-one sessions at the patient’s bedside.


A patient who participated in the session commented: “It’s very interesting, reminiscing about the old and new.”

Another patient added: “It’s fascinating and I enjoyed talking to people.”


A spokesperson from the museums and artefacts team said: “We have also benefitted from the joint project. The feedback from the activity co-ordinators has helped us to better understand some of the complex needs of patients with dementia. It has also been great fun looking at and searching out different items for various occasions and has helped us improve what we can offer as a whole”.

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Jo McAulay added: “Due to the success of this work, the activity coordinators are currently planning their year ahead, so that they can also take advantage of seasonal and cultural celebration resources offered by the museums team. We’re extremely grateful that we’ll continue to improve the wellbeing of our patients through the use of these welcome resources.”


The sessions are part of the holistic care that NUH provides to patients with dementia. During Dementia Awareness Week (14-20 May) the Trust is hosting a series of activities for staff and patients to highlight key areas that can help with patient care. Alongside activities there will be a focus on nutrition, the importance of hearing tests for people with dementia and support for carers.