Memory cottage for visitors with Alzheimer’s disease

As the radio played I Love Aeroplane Jelly, a small group of elderly people burst into song.

Staff at Reminiscence Cottage at the National Wool Museum in Geelong had hoped for these moments, when an object or a piece of music triggered a memory or moment of joy for people living with Alzheimer’s disease.

The project is the brainchild of Sarah Gillies, who saw her own grandmother forget the names of her family as the disease progressed.

The cottage is full of original items from the 1930s and 1940s.

The cottage is full of original items from the 1930s and 1940s. Photo: Justin McManus

Ms Gillies took the museum’s replica 1930s cottage, based on a real Geelong home, and recreated it as a welcoming space for those with Alzheimer’s.

From the knitted tea cosy in the kitchen to the black-and-white wedding photo hanging above the mantelpiece, the cottage is full of original items from the 1930s and 1940s, mostly found locally, which visitors can touch.

Ms Gillies worked with Alzheimer’s Australia to renovate the cottage appropriately.

Some people with the disease find it difficult to distinguish between surfaces, she explained, so some walls are painted apricot so they can be seen against the door frames.

The swirly-patterned carpet in the sitting room could not be removed, so Ms Gillies created a clear contrast by sourcing a period lounge suite in a block green colour – no mean feat from an era that favoured print couches and arm chairs.

Ms Gillies said she believed the immersive space was the first of its kind in Australia.

Some visitors may have forgotten the experience by the time they walked out the door but that did not mean it was not worthwhile, Ms Gillies said.

“For at least an hour of that day they’re completely engaged, they’ve been talking, interacting with people, touching things,” she said.

The Reminiscence Cottage won a Victorian Museum Award in the medium museum category, presented on Thursday evening.

Patrick Watt, manager of the Burke Museum in Beechworth, took out an individual award for increasing visitor numbers by 32 per cent in one year, enticing people to rediscover a museum which “in some ways changes, in some ways doesn’t”.

Operating for more than 150 years, Mr Watt describes it as a “museum of a museum”.

It has a large collection of taxidermy animals from a time when curators were attempting to explain Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory – then a new concept – to the public.

Source: The Age – 8th August 2014. Report:  Larissa Nicholson

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Photo by Artdecodude