Living history museums are created to help us understand the past. One corner of the Old Town Museum in Denmark, however, has a different purpose. Designed to trigger the memories of visitors with Alzheimer's disease or other dementia, the museum has created a 1950s apartment environment complete with sights, sounds, and smells of the period.
Labeled the "House of Memories," visitors will encounter a young "housewife" who leads the group to a kitchen containing spices, preserves, pots and pans, and the aroma of fresh coffee. In the bedroom, visitors find perfume on the dresser and personal items in the nightstand. They encounter a dining room decorated with period fabrics and fixtures along with guest table settings.
Instead of telling the visitors about the time period, the museum interpreter prods guest for information about the items: "What can you tell me about this thing? You probably know more about this than I do."
Henning Lindberg, a museum employee, notes that visitor moods appear to be "lightened" by the experience. Some people talk for the first time in years, recalling stories of the past. The experience has been so positive that other museums, especially in Europe, are experimenting with the model.
Researchers believe that our strongest memories occur during a "reminiscence bump," a time period which includes youth and early adulthood. For the vast majority of people with Alzheimer's disease or related dementia today, that "reminiscence bump" occurred during the 1950s. As time passes, the museum's period will change its focus to match the new "bump," the 1960s.
A visit to Denmark outside your realm of reality? There's nothing to stop you from creating your own "House of Memory" at home. As the head of the Center for Autobiographical Memory Research at Aarhus University suggests: "Go object-hunting in the basement. Clean up the house [or visit a thrift store] and you're find objects to start a conversation."
Click here to read to the complete NPR "House of Memories" story.
Click here to learn more about the "House of Memories" app from the Liverpool Museum. The app is downloadable on your iPhone or Android system phone or tablet.