Museums across Minnesota and Wisconsin are developing cultural programs for people with Alzheimer's and dementia. Designed to help stimulate past memories and provide a welcoming social space for patients and their caregivers, the programs, collectively called SPARK!, include art tours, painting classes, and even dance.
So far, ten museums are participating in SPARK!, which works in partnership with the Alzheimer's Association. According to Smithsonian.com, the primary goal of the programs is to “use artwork and other sensory input to help stimulate long-term memory retention among patrons.”
According to The Star Tribune, the SPARK! guided art tours focus more on personal experience and memory than arts education. Tour guides provide some background on each work of art, but are primarily focused on stimulating conversation amongst their audience. Some tours even incorporate other sensory items like scented candles or textured cloth to help spark memories.
Marv Lofquist, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2012 and often speaks to groups on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association, told The Star Tribune, “If you asked me right now what I remember about the last time we were in the Bakken Museum, I’d be able to give you a few details but not very many.” But Lofquist believes the museum provides essential intellectual stimulation for those with Alzheimer's. “I have trouble recalling it later, but what’s important is that I get that stimulation regularly,” he explained.
According to museum employees, SPARK! is part of a larger effort to make museums fully inclusive spaces. “There are a lot of barriers in the world that keep people from participating fully,” Emma Allen of the Bell Museum of Natural History told The Star Tribune. “How do we make a space that has fewer barriers?”