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Community of Learners: Autumn 2014

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Jessica Womack, Dartmouth Class of 2014, teaching a group about ancient Chinese art.

Reaching People with Alzheimer's and Dementia through Art

Hood Quarterly, autumn 2014

Today a growing number of museums across the country are offering special tours and programs for people who have Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. The Hood took this important step in 2006, inspired by two pioneering institutions—the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Museum of Modern Art. Both museums’ programs revealed that engagement with the visual arts has a positive effect on people with dementia, often improving their moods and stimulating them to engage in conversation and creative interpretation and expression beyond levels they would otherwise on a daily basis.

The Hood found an eager and willing partner in the local retirement community Kendal at Hanover, and the collaboration is still going strong. Depending on the weather, specially trained museum docents either lead monthly tours in the museum’s galleries or take PowerPoint slide shows to Kendal for residents of Kendal’s Whittier Memory Care program.

The coaching that Hood staff and volunteers have received from colleagues at Kendal about the nature of Alzheimer’s and how it affects people’s behavior and abilities has been extremely helpful in shaping successful museum experiences, and the discussion-based approach we use in our teaching is an excellent fit for the needs of this audience. Staff members from both Kendal and the Hood have observed that tour participants who have memory impairment have been extremely engaged in looking at and discussing works of art, both in the museum and through slide shows.

This spring, Hood intern Jessica Womack ’14 led the museum into a second program for this audience. Through her sorority, Alpha Xi Delta, Jessica had become involved in Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center’s Memory Café, a program for people with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders and their caregivers. Jessica was inspired to offer a tour at the Hood for Memory Café participants, which she co-led with Claire Lyon, a docent who had worked with groups from Kendal’s Whittier program. The first tour was such a success that a second was quickly scheduled, and then a third. We are grateful to Jessica for drawing upon her diverse experiences as a Dartmouth student and instigating this new and exciting program, and we look forward to offering many more tours for people who have Alzheimer’s and their caregivers and companions in the future.

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