MUSEUMS AND LIBRARIES FOR ALZHEIMER’S
A project of Empolese Valdelsa area for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers
THE EMPOLESE VALDELSA AREA
The Empolese Valdelsa area is located in the central Tuscany, few kilometres from the world-famous cities of Florence, Pisa and Siena. Its territory is very rich in history and art and the landscape is one of the most characteristic of Tuscany with its low hills, expertly rounded by the work of man. It is also a territory that gave birth to well-known personalities around the world who worked enriching the historical heritage of this area such as the world famous painter Leonardo da Vinci, many other artists and significant figures in the history of Italian literature such as Giovanni Boccaccio, the author of The Decameron. The Empolese Valdelsa joins eleven individual Municipalities; everyone has at least one museum that tells history, art, know-how and ancient traditions of these places: there are 20 museums altogether. It’s a cultural network of museums called MuDEV “Museo diffuso Empolese Valdelsa”.
SUMMARY OF THE PROJECT
Started in 2017 Museums for Alzheimer’s is an accessibility and cultural inclusion program aimed at elderly people who experience dementia and those who take care of them. The project provides accessible activities to people with Alzheimer’s or dementia and to those who take care of them at professional and family level within the museums in the Empolese Valdelsa area. In 2018 also the network of public libraries of the area joined the project and today the activities take place equally in the museums and libraries of the territory. The project is commonly called Museums and Libaries for Alzheimer’s: the museums and libraries of Empolese Valdelsa for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
It is promoted by the eleven Municipalities of the Empolese Valdelsa area and by two different cultural networks working together such as the museum network MuDEV and the public libraries network, Rea.net. It’s supported by eight nursing homes for elderly people and two day-care centers of the Empolese Valdelsa territory. It is developed by a multiprofessional team that involves museum educators and professional caregivers who work in different museums and assisted houses of the territory.
The work shared between these two cultural networks of the territory and the informal network of caregivers has strengthened the objectives of the project, has laid the foundations for a growing awareness that places of culture play an important and strategic role for the establishment of sensitive and welcoming communities towards frail elderly people.
WHERE THE PROJECT WAS BORN
Among the initiatives to encourage the accessibility of museums, those designed for older people with dementia date back to the early 2000s in the United States (the best known, MeetMe at MoMA, started in 2007), but they have already achieved wide diffusion also in Europe.
In the Italian panorama, Tuscany has reached important results: after the first projects of Palazzo Strozzi and Marino Marini Museum in Florence, today programs for people with dementia are activated in the whole Region and can benefit from a network of coordination under the monitoring of the Tuscany Region.
- Making MuDEV museums accessible to people living with dementia, experimenting with activities dedicated to the participation of people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers both from the nursing houses and their own homes;
- to offer a real and intense experience of encounter with art, focusing on the emotional and comunicative power of art;
- to sensitize communities on issues related to aging and its frailties and to contribute to a more dementia-friendly society;
- to contribute to the idea that museums and libraries are places of encounter and rewarding relationships between people with dementia, professional carers and family members aimed at improving quality of life and well-being, overcoming the stigma that accompanies the person with dementia and the family;
- to allow people with Alzheimer’s and their carers to remain integrated into the cultural and social life of the community in which they live;
- making cultural activities dedicated to the frailties of aging an extension of social services, integrating cultural, social and healt areas;
- to overcome the identification of people with dementia with their illness by losing their identity and recognition of skills, interests and passions.
WHAT WE DO AND HOW WE DO
What we do is based on a specific idea of dementia.
It is a fact, dementia leads to a loss of everyday competencies so people with dementia have additional needs; but if the environment is created with this in mind, the cognitive impairment is not a hindrance and, in a cognitively barrier-free environment, people with dementia can continue to partecipate fully in a social and cultural life.
Every activity in the museums or in the libraries is planned and leaded by a multiprofessional team of geriatric educators, museum educators and librarians.
When people with dementia and their caregivers come to the museum, we usually take look around, focusing on one or more works of art and then everyone is motivated to share its own toughts, ideas, suggestions, stories about it.
What we propose is not an art history lesson; we all participate together in the creation of stories about the artwork we are looking at.
It’s a creative storytelling process: we promote immagination, not memory.
During the creative process everyone is listened to, without interrupting, correcting or judging. This reminds us to adopt the right attitude with people with dementia and to accept them as they are. In front of an artwork every opinion is personal and equally valid: that’s the reason why we meet at the museum.
This approach is inspired by the “Time Slips” program created by Ann Basting in the United State, with the aim to enhance relationships by inviting creative expression.
The main vision is that creative expression is available to us at every stage of life, no matter where we live or our abilities.
We use also different approaches to get in touch with a work of art: whenever possible – particularly in case of sculptures – we integrate the observation of a work of art with tactile exploration or with sensory stimulations that involve the use of fabrics and materials that are directly connected to the work of art we are watching. Or we can use sounds, music, smells or perfumes.
CO.RE. THE CHOIR OF ELDERLY PEOPLE
An inclusive choir exprience for elderly people in the Empolese Valdelsa area
SUMMARY OF THE PROJECT
The CoRe is a choir that includes people living and operators working in nursing homes for the elderly in the Union of Municipalities of Empolese Valdelsa area.
The project started in 2010: since then the CoRe’s aim is not only the wellness and satisfaction of the participants, but also:
- the redefinition of personal and social identity of the elderly;
- their participation in the social and cultural life;
- the triggering of a change in the social perception of no self-sufficient older people;
- the construction of new significant relationships between participants (seniors, workers), and between the participants and other citizens.
Therefore, in the preparation and in the realization we collaborate with local political and cultural institutions: city governments, schools, newspapers, bands and professional orchestras and theater companies, photographers; for the same reason, performances take place in public theaters and cultural festivals, or in institutional spaces such as libraries, archives, museums, schools and prisons – or in town squares.
The script of Core’s performances consists in the life stories of elderly participants, the soundtrack of folk songs, opera arias and old pop songs somehow linked to those stories. Thus, 50-70 people are part of the CoRe, many more are involved in the process of collection of stories, transcribed by educators with specific skills. The theme, of great social importance, changes every year: Love, Labor, Travel, War. The choice of the theme promotes shared reflection by all citizens from the point of view of the elderly and contributes to reduce the intergenerational distances.
Elderly tales are focused on particular, romantic or funny episodes, though emotionally significant for them; at the same time, they almost always consciously propose a historical, perhaps ironic, however deep reflection: “I ask myself: why should I tell this story, who cares? Yet, I’m convinced today’s girls gonna know something: at that time you have to be brave even just to fall in love…”; or: “I protest! Someone is guilty! The factories should not go to war with each other. All that story could be different”.
This capacity of a distant look, you got when you’ve seen too much and now you’re out of the game, you haven’t much to lose, it is a priceless feature of the elderly, at the same time historical memory function of the community; when exploited, it can grant them an important social and recognized role, even more if accompanied the historical memory function of the community
Both the elderly stories (collected in a publication) and their performance induce to reflect on topics that are important for everyone, historical moments that led to our current situation, often downsizing fears and inviting to consider the possibilities and not only the difficulties.