A voyage of maritime memories for people with dementia and their carers

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For people living with dementia, there are often limited opportunities for learning or socialising, compounding experiences of loneliness and social isolation. [Source: The Australian National Maritime Museum]

The Australian National Maritime Museum has been trailing sessions aimed at people with dementia and their carers to promote story-sharing, social interaction and connection with huge success.

Their Sydney-based session called Seaside Stories is an onsite reminiscence and story-sharing program where participants can touch and hold museum objects while sharing their stories and experiences in a safe and welcoming space. 

Post-program survey results reported that over 75% of participants (people living with dementia and their carers) found the program to be a valuable learning experience. 

For people living with dementia, there are often limited opportunities for learning or socialising, compounding common experiences of loneliness and social isolation across this demographic. Carers of people living with dementia also experience social isolation due to their caring responsibilities. 

During the reminiscence sessions, museum educators ask questions, guide discussion and encourage participants to share their stories and recollections. 

Program facilitators underwent training in dementia communication with Dementia Australia to tailor sessions to the sensory and mobility preferences of participants and make them feel valued and respected.

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A participant and program facilitator exploring maritime artifacts. [Source: The Australian National Maritime Museum]

Facilitator Judithe Hall said she found her session very rewarding, using the museum’s Education Collecting objects such as swimsuits, bathing caps, posters, metal buckets and shells.

Fellow facilitator Sue Grunstein said carers got as much out of the sessions as those with dementia. 

She explained that she “Had a session where the person with dementia had very limited verbal expression however his wife recalled that he had been a champion swimmer in Hungary. Even if a person is not able to verbalise their experience having someone with them who can share that memory is very meaningful.”

There are three components to the Seaside Stories program: a themed reminiscence and story-sharing session, morning tea and a museum tour.

Reminiscence sessions are followed by morning tea where all participants can chat and often carers exchange contact details to stay in touch.

The 2023 program schedule includes:

  • Swimming and the Beach – Participants share memories of swimming and visiting the sea; and hear the story of Kay Cottee’s circumnavigation of the world on an educator-led tour
  • Suitcases and Travel – Participants share memories of travel, holidays and migration while holding museum objects from cruises, plane flights, camping trips and more. They take a tour through the Passengers exhibition and hear stories of migration to Australia
  • Ships and Ropes – Participants touch ropes, compasses and binoculars. Recall times spent on ships, boats and watercraft and go on a guided walk along the waterfront

Sessions run the first Wednesday of every month from 10am – 12pm. The cost is $26 per person or $20 for members and includes a reminiscence session, guided tour, catered morning tea and museum entry.

For bookings go to the museum’s website here.  

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