Opening Doors is an initiative to help museums create programs that engage the senses and spark conversation for people with memory loss. No matter the size or collection, any museum or cultural center can create a customized tour to open the doors to the growing population of adults with memory loss and their families.
Currently, more than 35 million adults live with memory loss. The Alzheimer’s Association predicts this number will double by 2030. This means that 50% of adults over 85 will develop some form of memory loss. This phenomenon is being referred to as “The Gray Tsunami.” How will we care for this fast-growing population of adults with memory loss? Museums and cultural institutions can be part of the solution by crafting programs that open their doors in new ways through creative, engaging programs that open the doors of the mind.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York was a pioneer in creating the “Meet Me at MoMA” tours that makes art accessible to people with dementia. Jane Tygesson, a longtime docent at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), visited MoMA to learn about their program concept. She was inspired by the idea of using art to unlock memory and imagination and began speaking with the MIA staff about starting a similar program there. In 2008, she co-founded the “Discover Your Story” tours at the MIA. Through this program, more than 3,000 older adults with memory loss and their caregivers have visited the MIA; 80-90% of them had never been to the MIA before this program began. In 2010, Jane Tygesson began partnering with the Helen Bader Foundation and working with similar programs being offered by the 11 members of the SPARK! Alliance of art and cultural centers in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Tours are intimate, focused on personal connection and discussion. Led by trained volunteers, the tour itself is more of a journey — exploring pieces of art and using props that help visitors engage their senses, tell stories, and reminisce about the past. Docents and volunteers are trained to create a comfortable environment that stimulates senses and sparks conversation.
Research shows that art therapy can have a powerful impact on those with memory loss. Images often trigger memories where words may fail. When senses are stimulated, it opens up doors to memory and imagination that dementia often locks away. Read some testimonials here. The impact has proven just as great for museum volunteers and staffs. Read some of their stories here.
Jane’s manual, Opening Doors to Memory & Imagination: Creating a Museum Program for People with Memory Loss is a step-by-step guide for how museums and cultural centers — of any size — can create their own Opening Doors tours. The manual profiles the successful integration of memory loss programs in several Midwestern museums and walks other museums through the process of launching programs at their facilities. The book is available for free download here and you can contact Jane Tygesson for free consulting and training on how to create your own program.
These tours are a powerful way to connect art with personal stories while engaging people with dementia in a life-giving experience. This pioneering museum work is a beacon for dealing with the age wave and consequences of dementia.
– Pat Samples, Co-Founder and former Program Director for ARTSAGE, Minneapolis, MN