Episode 1: Home Memories

How do we think and remember with objects from our past? In this episode, Ana Baeza, MoDA's Curator, discusses with Jill Stewart (Middlesex University) and Alina Tiits (Museum of Brands) how museums are using their collections for reminiscing, especially to work with people living with dementia.

Peek, Frean & Co Biscuit tin

Home Memories Podcast: Transcript

Ana: At MoDA, we normally use the collections to inspire creative practice, but today we are looking at the potential of using the collections from a different angle, and this is how objects relate to our most persona land collective memories. And we have two very honourable guests today, Jill Stewart and Alina Tiits, welcome Jill and Alina.

Alina and Jill: Thank you; thank you very much.

Ana: And they are here to talk about their work in related areas. They both support and improve the care of people living with dementia.

Now, dementia is a progressive disorder that affects how the brain works and in particular the ability to remember, think and reason. It is not a disease in itself – but a group of symptoms that may accompany a number of diseases that can affect the brain. The popular understanding of “dementia” is not always conclusive, or correct: it is sometimes used interchangeably with AD (even this is just one of the most common diseases in dementia, which includes a wider range of symptoms). Although dementia is not a consequence of growing old, the risk of having dementia does increase with age.

Like other European countries, the UK has an ageing population so innovative solutions are required to meet the needs of older people, both those who live independently or who are in care. The number of people living with dementia is on the rise, and just to give you some figures, in the UK it is estimated that 600,000 to 800,000 people live with dementia, that is about 1 in 6 people over the age of 80. The charity Age UK estimates that only 43% of dementia cases are diagnosed, and we’ll be talking about this in the course of our podcast.

And museums and art institutions especially have embraced the opportunities to work in this area in the last couple of years, with many museums launching reminiscing and creative arts projects with those that live with dementia, such as the Museum of Brands. Or the Museums Association launched a Dementia Toolkit; or the House of Memories project at National Museums of Liverpool are just some examples. So this is clearly a growing area with museums, but also in research and in universities in the UK. So can these reminiscing initiatives and research activities improve wellbeing, and if so how, could they be used therapeutically? And more broadly, how is this connected thinking about the quality of people’s homes and their health?

And this is where Alina and Jill come in. As they both work in converging areas. And to introduce each of them.

Alina is a community developer officer at the Museum of Brands. Alina has worked as a producer at music and arts festivals, and briefly as a researcher in an advertising agency. She currently leads a community project at the Museum of Brands looking at how branded objects can be used for reminiscence with positive health effects.

Jill is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental and Public Health at Middlesex University, and has an extensive research track record, focusing on housing and health, on the histories of public health, and more recently the intersection of dementia and housing, which will be today’s focus, especially how home environments can be adapted.

Before we start getting into the topic of dementia, I wanted to get us going with some reminiscing. And I’ve asked each of you to choose one object that has important personal memories for you: Alina, I think you’re going to be talking about a slinky; and Jill, you’ve brought some personal objects here today. Can you reach just say in a few words why you chose this object and tell us something about it, about the associations that this has for you.

Memory Objects

Jill: what I brought along today is a Ladybird book; I think many of us grew up with Ladybird books, and one of the first things that strikes me on the back is that it cost 30p. So, I probably had this book since the mid-70s perhaps but what I associated with is the very comforting thoughts, and sitting with the family, and reading it. We also used to live near canals, so I always used to enjoy the painted jugs and so on that were on the canal boats. And the reason I’ve brought this along is because it’s about my past, and recalling, and reminiscing, but it’s also been an important thread in my professional life, because obviously now I teach housing, and, many people still live of course on narrow boats of various forms. And it seems to me that this has been an important thread throughout my life.

Alina: I brought an old childhood toy called slinky, which hopefully quite a few of the listeners may be familiar with. If you are not, it is essentially a spring, it’s silver-coloured and it makes this sound [metallic sound]. Which I have recently learnt the sound is the reason for why it is called a slinky, because it is a slinkyzy sound. I had one when I was a child, so I grew up in Finland, and when I was little, we didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and when I was a kid I often didn’t have the trendiest toys that other kids might have had at the playground. But I did have a slinky.

It was at the time when everyone was going slinky-crazy in the early 90s, and I felt so proud of my slinky –I just felt I was one of the cool kids when I had one. And only after I started to work at the Museum of Brands, which has toys and other sorts household objects, I learnt that it’s actually not a 90s thing, it came out first in the 1940s in the US, and it’s one of these objects that has sort of kept its charm. It’s very very simple, you can literally play with it in one single way, but it’s something has fascinated children from 1940s, and it still works perfectly well today, so I think it’s a brilliant piece of design and I’ve only started to appreciate it lately.

Museum Objects and Memories

Ana: We have other objects here with us today, as well, and these are objects from MoDA. And amongst these are a biscuit tin from the 1880s from Peek, Frean Company; there is also a ration book, there are some magazines from the 1960s, and some colour charts from the brand Ripolin. So with all these objects, many of which are similar to the ones you have in the collection of the Museum of Brands, are there any that have particular associations for you, and what are these, what you they make you remember?

Jill: OK, perhaps if I start on this one? This one immediately attracts me, this is the Practical Householder magazine, and it dates back to 1964, and one reason I’m interested in this is because of my early childhood was based on things like this, and there always seemed to be practical householder things going on in our home as we were growing up, so it wouldn’t be at all expected that some would come in and be paid to do anything. We would do household things ourselves for sure.

But looking at this, what’s immediately noticeable, and always I find quite amusing, is the people doing the decorating they are quite different to me, they look perfect in their clothes, without anything splashed at all, so it’s also quite an ideal vision of what’s happening as well, and very different gender roles as we’ve come to expect from there era, from this one dated in 1964.

Alina: I chose of these objects something that is possibly typical, because I chose something that has sort of developed a meaning to me over the last 5 years that I’ve lived in London. I live in Bermondsey, and I chose a tin of Peek Freans superior biscuits, which is this highly decorative old tin, when I first moved to London I moved to Bermondsey, and I was chatting with one of my neighbours, cause I didn’t really know anything about the area. And she referred to the old biscuit factory. And I didn’t know what it was. So I looked it up and learnt that there used to be a massive Peek and Frean’s factory in Bermondsey, which apparently was the only thing that Bermondsey was known for at the time.

And there’s wonderful records of people calling it the biscuit town, because apparently when they were making certain sorts of biscuits, there would be this scent of a particular biscuits going around in the neighbourhood, so that was sort of the identity of the area. And for me, I really loved it, because it made me feel like I was a bit more connected to this new city that I was living in. And I feel these sort of objects can make us feel like we’re more connected to the places we live in and make us feel more at home, which I think relates to our topic today.

The Museum of Brands

Ana: Absolutely, and I think we can expand on that, but actually talking about the project that you’ve been leading at the Museum of Brands. Now this is a vast collection that includes toys, packaging, toys, everyday products, it gathers together over 12,000 objects, correct me if I’m wrong? And all of these came from the private collection of Robert Opie originally, so can you tell us a bit about how you’ve been using this collection to link it to home memories and to develop reminiscing sessions, Alina?

Alina: Sure, absolutely, so we are called the Museum of Brands but that often doesn’t really say anything to people. So what I kind of like to call us is the museum of everyday objects and household objects, so our collection, which was started by Robert in 1963, includes all kinds of tins and cartons and toys and games and advertisements, and things that people would have bought and used and then possibly thrown away.

Because our collection is things that people would have used every day, we’ve always known that a lot of our visitors for them it’s a very personal and almost an emotional experience to visit the museum I think that’s something quite unique and special to our collection, is that most of the visitors that come through our doors, when they go through our collections, they see things that they would have used, and they remember from different decades, for a lot of people they evoke memories, often very personal powerful childhood memories.

Having awareness of this mechanism of this link to memory we wanted to do some reminiscing work in the museum, and, having worked a bit with some local charities that spoke and interacted with senior groups were realised that this concept of reminiscing works with all kinds of people and it all works with people with dementia.

And for about half a year now we’ve been running this project called Brand Memories, within which we go into local care homes and day centres, and soon we’ll start in one of the local hospitals. So we go in and interact with people with dementia and we take boxes of replica objects from the museum, and we have conversations about the them, what they are, and their history, but we also try to encourage these memory moments, these stories of their own personal life, so we try to trigger memories with the objects that we have.

Ana: So as you’re saying, objects can create this trigger that takes you back to a certain place, and you mentioned already the connection to Bermondsey, but also the connection to childhood memories. So obviously home and our environment are so important to that. And I think that’s a really nice segue to the work you’re going to be doing in the next couple of years, Jill. Which, you’ve just received funding from the Association of London Environmental Health Managers (ALEHM), to research the current picture of private housing provision of elderly people in London, also those with dementia. So can you tell us a bit about this, and the role of remembering, or more broadly within the project, how you characterise this?

Living with Dementia

Jill: we’ve recently received a small grant for the ALEHM, and I should say that my background is as an environmental health practitioner. And I’ve worked in housing for around 30 years now.

The role of an environmental health practitioner is to think about the environment that somebody lives in, and the environment means the immediate house but it also means the wider community and the facilities that some has access to within their neighbourhood and wider living environment that can also help to enhance their health.

We also look as to what resources that are available in the community and how we try to understand health and wellbeing. Our job is very much about interventions, and how we can deliver interventions that really help impact on people’s health in a positive way.

This particular project has a focus in private sector housing, by that I mean owner-occupiers and private rented housing, where most of our population actually live, and most people prefer to remain in their own home for as long as possible
Obviously with population ageing comes new challenging for our housing stock. Our housing stock is ageing and it might be considered inappropriate and not suitable for a growing population.

However we’ve had a series of grants over the couple of years which are now very much in decline, which relate to property conditions but also home adaptations are becoming necessary as people age.

We’re still in the process of this research but what’s already emerging is quite an erratic picture across London of the grants that are available and how they’re being delivered. We’re also thinking around wider issues such as loneliness and isolation, and these are issues as well that perhaps Alina has touched on a little bit, in that looking at for example activities available to older people during the day, and one thing about the private sector that presents some aspect of inequality is access to some of these other services that are available, but people in private sector housing can find challenging to access at times.

Narratives around Dementia

Ana: And I think this goes back something that we mentioned at the very beginning, which is the narratives that are constructed around dementia. This often seems to invoke anxiety and we can see that people that are living with dementia might be more marginalized. As things are, what do you think your is position in addressing some of these issues and perhaps changing these narratives?

Alina: I feel like we are all in this together, and we probably would all like to change the narrative, but we can do different things in the area, and I think museums and art institutions in general they have a major role in shaping how we perceive reality.

We really need to think of solutions to support people and to change the narrative. Because in reality people can still live really well years after the dementia diagnosis, but we still have this sort of a…I think in the latest EU conference around the Silver Economy, they were calling dementia or AD as the third global crisis after HIV and climate change, which I understand where they’re coming from, but then at the same time, if you’ve received a dementia diagnosis, that’s quite, that is not something that you necessarily want to hear. So I do think we need to change the narrative.

Jill: Yes and I’d absolutely agree with that, and add that one of the things that has come out of project so far is that the number of people it’s given a bit of a platform to, to talk about the people they know who are living with dementia, and how hard it’s been, but also how they’ve been able to access different services, and share their knowledge. I think the main think is it’s given some people the opportunity to talk about it more publicly and share the work they’re doing.

So the project is shining a light on dementia from a housing-led perspective, but I think already there are indications that people working in housing do want to offer a better service and do want to understand how they offer a better service.

Ana: To think about your respective areas of work, what outcomes would you like to see; what would you like the benefits, the fruits of your work to be in the coming years, and in the present as well?

Jill: I would like to see more connected services certainly. We have the frameworks there, but there’s still some way to go in ensuring that all the relevant services are together and at the right times.

And also it’s about understanding dementia more, understanding how we can bring about change, not just from our own perspective, but from the perspective of the person living with dementia, and for their carers.

A lot of our work in environmental health is led from the perspective of housing standards, housing conditions, but sometimes for people their wellbeing is more about issues of such as loneliness and isolation, so I hope that we can think of these as having equal value to housing conditions, so that people have things to do, and activities, and we’re able to prescribe these in new ways, but there is a long way to go. I think we’re still working in silos, and that needs to be challenged.

Alina: That is really interesting, our work is not solely so much in the practical grassroots level in the community, and I think what we do it mostly works in two levels – so in the reminiscing sessions that we conduct in different places, what we really try to do is to create positive experiences and positive social interactions, and we try to enhance people’s wellbeing by making people feel more calm and more connected and less confused so it has a benefit for the individual, but we also try to change the narrative of how dementia is perceived, and to me it’s actually has been quite surprising that even for some people that work with dementia even they might have prejudice against dementia, if that makes sense?

A couple of weeks ago we were in a care home where one of the carers, passing by, just mentioned that probably it is not worth speaking to this particular person because their dementia is so advanced that they won’t be able to respond to you. And, that really made me think about the fact that if that is a completely well-meaning comment of someone trying to help us make the most of our time …if that is the attitude that a person who works in a care home has, then how can we expect that a layperson just walking on the street feels like it is worth engaging with people with dementia.

Using museum objects with people living with dementia

Ana: And I wondered if we could tease out a little bit what that interaction can be, because I’m very interested in the multi-sensory aspects that you bring into the sessions, and how it’s not just been about looking at objects, but it’s about holding them, smelling them, so do you have some specific examples around the way you do, and how you trigger all these different reactions using different senses?

Alina: Sure, so, we when we go into care homes we take a box of objects which includes all kinds of things really, but the ones that we use the most and the ones that we feel like are most effective are the ones that are really multi-sensory, so we have an old Lifebuoy soap, we have an old, or old-ish aqua manda soap, and we have a perfume, and we have box of tea in the 1950s packaging, and we, the way we structure our sessions is, ermm, we first start by introducing ourselves and saying a sentence or two about the museum but not necessarily get too much into the history of it and so on, but then to take out these objects and talk about their history, and pass them around and let people react to them, and often what comes out is, well first of all, it depends, I mean, we’re talking about dementia as if it was one condition, which it isn’t, it’s a range of sorts of conditions, and because of various different factors including genetics, and environment and other things, people react to them in different ways, so you can’t necessarily – and people have good days and bad days – so you can’t necessarily say with 100% certainty that a person with dementia is going to react in a certain way.

But what often comes out is they will grab hold of that object, erm, Lifebuoy is a brilliant one because it’s a carbolic soap, and it has a really disgusting scent, at least to me, who is a bit younger, but then a lot of older people feel very nostalgic about it.

But people, people take it, and they smell it, and they make a face, and they may exchange a look with another person, and even that in itself, even though no words have been exchanged, that is an interaction, and it is something that is sort of on a higher level of engagement that their normal everyday activities are.

Ana: and I think Jill you might have something to add to that?

Jill: Yes I wanted to add to this, because when we’re thinking about somebody’s health a major risk factor is people being lonely, lonely and isolated, that may be more harmful than living in poor housing in some situations.

With dementia this can be aggravated because perhaps neighbours, friends, family are embarrassed to come and visit. So this can affect not just the person with dementia, but their carer who lives with them as well, who may also become lonely, this is perhaps an untapped area really, we also need to think about, how it feels for them. They may have already lost a large part of someone who feels exceptionally feel close, and losing friends, family as well, because they feel embarrassed, they not know what to say when they come, communication, a conversation might be difficult.

But I see there’s a potential for using objects a lot to start to stimulate some sort of interaction even, so for people we’re mainly involved with who are in private sector housing, as I’ve mentioned, this can be particularly aggravated because services are not necessarily available and accessible for people.

But if we can think through new ways of community engagement, there’s lots of people who are keen to be volunteers, which is also good for their health as well. So there’s lots of ways we can think of what you’re doing to bringing what you’re doing into the wider community; as well as the great work you’re doing in care homes too.

Shared Conversations

Alina: One of the things I’ve noticed in the sessions is that there’s something really powerful about young people and old people sharing knowledge. And I think one of the interesting themes that I keep coming to in my own thinking is that when you get a dementia diagnosis suddenly on that moment you shift from being an active contributor to a society to being a patient. And for a lot of people that’s a horrible place to be in, and a lot of people feel well now my role is to just sit here and be treated, and that’s not great for anyone’s mental health I’m sure.

And often the most joyous moments are when our young volunteers go in and pick up an object, which may be a washing powder, a laundry powder box for example, we have a laundry powder box for, which coincidentally we have here on the table as well, it’s an old Surf box from 1950s, it’s kind of this pop art stylish lady saying “Surf Boils Spotless”, and that sentence doesn’t really hold a meaning for my generation, but it does for the older people because they still remember the time when you would boil your laundry. And having that interaction, having them teaching to younger people how to use this particular laundry detergent and how you would clean your white laundry before you maybe had washing machines, people find so much pleasure in sharing their own knowledge.

Jill: And I wanted to add to that, about the idea of someone living with dementia as a patient. This comes up quite a lot in my work, and I would refuse to use the word. But we need to see people living with dementia as a social issue as well.
The thing about ‘patient’ is as soon as we start to think about people in those terms, it becomes clinical, and it’s a different sort of relationship, so I really choose to move away from that idea. This also comes across in our work through disabled facilities grants, home adaptations.

And there’s a growing body of literature as well about some of these feeling too clinical, in the space of somebody’s home, and that‘s a very important issue, and that again can contribute to the loneliness, and people feeling embarrassed to visit.
Or people just feeling they’re not living in their home anymore, even though they may have lived there for much of their life for example.

So I think we need to really deal with that whole issue as well. And that’s been quite an important discussion point certainly within my profession and some of the grants that are available.

Home Memories

And so with that, I think we get to the subject what home can mean for different people and how it can be experienced in so many different ways, it’s a term that’s fraught with difficulties, but also one that seems to occupy an important place in this discussion, wouldn’t you say?

Jill: Again, it’s very very individual thing. We are looking in our study at owner-occupiers and private sector tenants.
Home means lots of different things to different people, but essentially much of the research is about owner-occupiers; and perhaps a starting point is about secure tenure, and people knowing they can stay there; people therefore having autonomy, control, a sense of being able to make it individual to their desires, their needs, and so on.

One of the challenges we have at the moment is with the privately rented sector. We now have people ageing in place as private sector tenants who don’t have that security of tenure.

As adaptations become more and more necessary as our population is growing older, this presents a lot of challenges to this sector, because the landlord and the tenant may have very different motivations for the power relationship. So a tenant who may need some adaptations wouldn’t be able to do them without the permission of the landlord, and that creates additional issues, and how that place feels for them as a sense of home. So that’s something we picked up on in our research.

If people feel a sense of home, which includes a sense of community and belonging, and dementia can obviously make some of those things negative concepts as well as we’ve already spoken about.

The home has lots of meanings and it’s a very individual and subjective feeling of space and belonging, I would say.

Alina: That’s really interesting, I’m reading Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal (2014) at the moment, which is so so fascinating…He’s an American surgeon, I believe, who has worked a bit with end of life care and in the book he talks about the history of care homes, and about the fact that in many cases care homes were created to be not extensions of home but extensions of hospitals, because hospitals were being crowded by people who couldn’t necessarily be cured in the true sense of the word…

So the people who otherwise would have been in hospitals needed a place where there is medical staff available but they could stay for longer, and his argument I believe in the book is that we started approaching the topic of care homes of sort of the wrong angle, and that’s why for a lot of people they’re really really scared to get in to a care home.

Jill: Yes, I think this is very important point and one thing where we start to focus on housing and the lived environment we think about a social model of health, not a medical model of health, which is perhaps where what you’re talking about some care homes have developed from.

I guess that was before we were living as long as we’re living now, so health conditions perhaps would have been more physical rather than about cognitive decline as well. Some of the new care homes are superb in how they’re able to address issues.

Dealing with Difficult Memories

Ana: There’s another thing that I wanted to bring up, I wonder about difficult memories, what happens when maybe past traumas come into play. We have one of the objects here is a ration book, and I understand that you also made a replica of this as part the memory box. That’s just one example of something that could bring up memories that are difficult, that trigger painful associations. So Alina, I was thinking if you can tell us about how you’ve navigated those kind of situations,

Alina: Sure, as you say we do have a ration book in our box of things that we do take into places where we conduct reminiscing sessions. I have to say that particularly the ration book hasn’t really ever created a very negative response.
I think a lot of the people who are now in care homes would have been children during the war and as we were saying at the beginning when we were talking about our own little objects, people tend to have happy memories of their childhoods, even if they took place in the wartime.

This one lady for example was the only person that was trusted with the ration book because her mum didn’t trust her brothers, she was the only one who got to take the ration book and get some things from the shop, and take it back to her mum, because if you lost one that would have been a disaster.

Sometimes we have situations that are slightly sensitive or difficult to navigate in other ways, sometimes for example when we talk about tea and pass around an old carton of tea people talk about the poverty in their childhood and how they couldn’t afford tea because…tea was only for… or for example children were not allowed to have any tea because tea was expensive, and only adults were allowed to have tea.

Or, this happened actually a couple of weeks ago, we had a bunch of advertising for summer vacations, I think maybe Edwardian times. And we brought them into one of the day care centres we work with and this particular centre is a really lovely centre in Notting Hill and is mainly for the elders of the Afro-Caribbean community.

And half way through showing these adverts we realised that every single person in these adverts is very wealthy white person, and with very very posh sort of clothing, and parasols, and playing tennis in their stockings and so on.
And it felt a bit absurd because you could sort of tell that these people couldn’t really relate to this, and I guess our approach navigating these sensitive situations is that all kinds of experiences are part of life and they can be talked about and should be talked about.

In that particular case one of the participants made a comment about the fact that well, like, they wouldn’t have been able to play tennis at the time, and we kind of make a joke about the fact that yeah, that’s true and don’t these people look a bit ridiculous playing tennis in this sort of clothing which is so non-suitable for this kind of sort of sports.

And you can discuss it, and sometimes history is painful and history is uncomfortable, but in some ways I feel that us as arts and heritage institutions, it’s also something that’s quite important to bring up, that we all have different sorts of stories, and not everything is necessarily as fun and pleasant.

Collaborative Dialogue

Ana: So you both are working in overlapping areas, and I guess my question to you really is do you see there is scope for more collaboration and dialogue both between museums and researchers at universities, but also maybe more broadly housing providers, policy makers, you know, what is our thinking in this area?

Jill: I would say there absolutely is, in fact what we’ve been trying in our Environmental and Public Health degrees to take students on lots of visits. So, for example we’re currently in discussions about bringing some of our students to the Museum of Brands.

We’ve been working with many of our excellent colleagues across Middlesex [University] as well to look at how we can introduce arts a lot more into our science-led subjects.

So there’s lots of areas, and with many of our students are interested in dementia in perhaps new ways, and I think many of them have been personally affected by someone they know with dementia. I can see it’s a subject that will become much more prominent in our science degrees now.

Alina: Yeah, I completely agree with Jill, I think the point you made about you working with private housing, which is a completely different sort of area to what our main focus is, is an interesting one because to me it highlights the point that for us it’s easy to go into a care home where we know we will find people with dementia there.

But as a museum, or the museum it is a lot harder to find and reach people who live independently with dementia in private sector housing. And I think questions like this are the kind of questions that we cannot really solve alone, we need to have collaborations to solve them.

One of the things we’ve spoken a lot about lately is this topic of social prescribing, which is being trialled in quite a few boroughs in London, and the idea that there would be people whether they would be GPs or link workers who would link try and people to the different services that are available but they might not know of.

But I think if there was more collaboration between say museums, university and policy makers it would make it so much easier for us to serve the community in the best way possible.

Jill: Absolutely and in Environmental Health we are looking for ever more effective interventions which by their nature involve partnerships.

We are working much more closely with our public health colleagues, who are working with the people you’re describing in social prescribing, and certainly in order to offer better services now and into the future we would like our students to go away from here with a much more holistic view of how they are involved with not just the housing but also the people who live there.

Alina: Yeah, that sounds brilliant.

Measuring Change?

Ana: So clearly from your experience there is evidence of the benefits of these arts and cultural interventions, but how do you go about capturing that, or measuring it? Is there some kind of evidence that you collect? What do you do to then demonstrate that this is the kind of impact that we’re having on people’s lives and maybe I don’t now Jill you may have some thoughts on that for your research?

Alina: We do multiple different things, obviously with people who are such a mixed group and some of them may not be verbal anymore, and who may not be able to respond to any interview questions it is it is definitely a challenge, and we do, and that’s why we do multiple different things, with groups that are a bit more active we do have a questionnaire which we’ve adapted from the wonderful programme of Age exchange in south London. That sort of measures the enjoyment and feeling of happiness and connectivity and feeling like they were part of a social group which is something that is really interesting to us.

But also what we do is we do write down observations. So we try to pay attention to people’s body language, whether they are engaging or not, whether they are smiling or not, and that’s sort of anecdotal evidence for us. But we also ask the carers, because they are people who know them the best, and we collect lots of qualitative evidence on whether the carers felt like it had an impact and we feel like in some cases, because dementia is a progressive disease, even if you’re feeling happy today, and of course depending on what sort of dementia you have and so on, even if you’re really enjoying something today, if you’re doing the same activity next week, you may not feel that what you’re doing is fun that week for whatever reason.

And then we’re looking into multiple different academic partnerships so that we could maybe also engage with that sphere a bit, because we do recognise that maybe we’re not the best people to write papers to peer-reviewed journals about the effectiveness of our work and maybe that’s something that Jill your department does more.

Jill: Yes it’s certainly an area of our work thinking about the effectiveness of interventions and how we can evaluate them.
In terms of housing, there’s lots of research now to show that focused individualised home adaptations can have a massive impact of people’s quality of life as well, and for relatively small cost as well, that’s another point that’s often not mentioned.

So organisations like Care and Repair, which focus particularly on housing needs of older people, Centre for Ageing Better which has perhaps a wider remit are now really working hard on producing the evidence to show us that relatively small-scale adaptations can have an enormous effect, and also stop people having to go to hospital which is another issue we’ve mentioned today.

And, we’ve tried to introduce a lot of this research to our students, to think through a more holistic approach, we certainly focus quite a lot on population ageing. And we’re working with colleagues, so looking to do a more interdisciplinary approach across Middlesex University and with colleagues outside the university as well, on how we can better serve the needs of our ageing population.

Alina: Can I say one more thing…?

Ana: Of course…!

Alina: Which I was meant to say, but I forgot…Which is that that there a lot of evidence to say people who, ageing people who are feeling happier and feel connected do need medical services less, they need a lot less GP visits, they need less medication, which then reflects to carers and their families and so on.

And one of the quite interesting things I learnt recently is that in a prison setting, where people are often completely devoid of these social connections and the environment is very mentally unfriendly to you, people tend to get geriatric conditions including dementia approximately 10 years earlier so if you think about in terms of what sort of an impact the environment, and the home environment has on a person’s medical condition, just by looking at those stats, I would say it that a massive influence and that’s a part of why this sort of work is really interesting.

Jill: Absolutely, and I think it goes to show that we can create the right living environments in the first place, everyone will have a much better quality of life throughout the extended period some people are living to as well.

Ana: Well my last question was what do you want to see in the next 20 years, but I feel Jill like you’ve just sort of hinted at that. But I don’t know if you’d like to add to it. I’d like finish on a note of hope I guess, and optimism, because we’ve been discussing quite complex issues, and sometimes difficult. So what, you know, if you could decide how the landscape would be in the next 20 years, what would you like to see?

Jill: I think more empathy and more understanding around dementia, and essentially, how best we can work together and effectively together to deliver better services, and after all we might all need them ourselves in a few years…

Alina: Speaking of ending on a positive note, so I would say that I would like, in a dream world I would say that I would like to see a cure for dementia, but if that doesn’t happen and it doesn’t look like it’s necessarily in the cards for the next few years, I would as Jill was saying, I would like to see better support services, holistically and throughout people’s lives, but I think the conversation is getting there, and the practice will get there at some point as well, so I think it’s something that we are really taking major steps in as a society…

Ana: Thank you Jill and Alina for joining us on this truly fascinating conversation, and for exploring the ways in which museum objects and the home environments are shifting the conversation about care for the elderly and particularly those that live with dementia.


Music Credits

Sound editors: Rhys Mathews, Martin Baxter.

Say It Again, I’m Listening by Daniel Birch is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial License
Let that Sink In by Lee Rosevere is licensed under Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)
Would You Change the World by Min-Y-Llan is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (aka Music Sharing) 3.0 International License.
Phase 5 by Xylo-Ziko is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

You can find details of all the publications mentioned in this podcast on our reading list.