Going out series: galleries, museums and exhibitions with a person with dementia

June 8, 2021

By Consultant Admiral Nurse, Jules Knight

As restrictions on leisure activities are easing, you may be thinking of going on a day out and feeling excited about the prospect after months of isolation. Trips out can be a good way to give a person with dementia a sense of purpose and stimulation, and new environments and experiences can help carers have a different perspective in often challenging caring routines. 

In the first of our going out series, we would like to focus on museums, galleries and other exhibitions and how families can make the most out of a day out there with someone they know living with dementia.

Choosing a museum

Someone looks at a painting in a gallery

There are many cultural places of interest throughout the UK which offer special events and tailored experiences. This can include workshops with multi-sensory experiences, where people with dementia can handle objects, in addition to engaging through reminiscence, music and movement. The Wallace Collection in London and The Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum are some of the cultural organisations with a commitment to supporting people with dementia. 

These are experiences that you could do with other carers and people with dementia. However, group environments may be unsettling for some people – always do what is most comfortable for you and the person you know with dementia. You will also be encouraged to keep a safe distance from people in your group who are not in your household. Please also note that group sizes are not permitted to be over six people across the four nations.

Contacting your local council can be another way for you to find out if there are any suitable workshops, tours or exhibitions which are suitable for people with dementia.

Other practical considerations     

Be mindful of what the person you’re supporting and you will be able to manage. You could pick a quiet time of the day, such as early morning or late in the evening, to go to the exhibition. It’s during these times that places are likely to offer priority access for people with a disability, which includes people with dementia.    

You can get hidden disability lanyards to discreetly identify people who need more support. It is worth checking out the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard Scheme which some cultural venues have already signed up to. With these lanyards, staff of organisations signed up to the scheme will be able to identify the wearers of these and will be able to provide you with support if needed.

At the venue  

You can use any paintings and exhibits as prompts for conversation. You could draw on previous experiences if the exhibition relates to a part of the world you have been to with the person with dementia, or a particular artist who they have told you they are passionate about.

You can also use any brochures or leaflets picked up from the venue to reminisce after the event, and again to be a prompt for conversation.

It may be worth thinking about any breaks you may need when going around the exhibition, to ensure that your relative gets the most out of the trip and is not too overwhelmed. Some cultural organisations also participate in the National Key Scheme (NKS), which provides people living with a disability independent access to locked public toilets across the country. Having a Radar Key can give access to these locked toilets.

Thinking of a Plan B 

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself in making this the perfect day out – sometimes there are instances which you can’t plan for so it’s worth having a back-up plan if things don’t go the way you intended. In this case, you may like to sit in a nearby park with a picnic, which is another way to enjoy time away from home with someone with dementia.

Remember that experiencing exhibitions doesn’t always have to be an indoor activity. In fact, some places offer open air galleries which can give families more flexibility. Weather dependent, these are likely to be a lot calmer than indoor galleries, and could make your loved one with dementia less overwhelmed.

Understand that for some people, going on trips away from home can be challenging. With this in mind, exhibiting spaces throughout the UK do offer virtual tours, such as Cardiff National Museum. You can also take a virtual tour through some international museums, such as the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York. 

Please see this resource which highlights more museums and galleries which you could consider for your day out with your loved one with dementia.  

For anyone who has any questions or queries about dementia, or further advice on managing days out with someone you know with the condition, please contact our Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline on 0800 888 6678 or helpline@dementiauk.org.    

Going out series: going to the cinema with a person with dementia

In the second part of our going out series, Admiral Nurse Jo Freeman looks at the practical steps families can take to make the most out of a trip to the cinema

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Going out series: a trip to the restaurant with a person with dementia

In the third part of our going out series, Admiral Nurse Caroline Woodcock looks at how you can make a trip to the restaurant an enjoyable experience for families with dementia

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Watch our advice videos

We’ve put together a number of videos featuring our Admiral Nurses giving advice on subjects such as ‘Looking after yourself as a carer’ and ‘What to do when someone stops recognising you’

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