Museum Moments Spark Discussion

Art examination inspires memory through the Michael C. Carlos Museum's docent-led Museum Moments program.

By Michelle Vaigursky

Story Photo

Carlos Museum docent Robey Tapp 73G points out the history of artifacts on display to inspire discussion amongst the Museum Moments group members.

For the person with Alzheimer’s Disease, memory is tricky. At times, recent experiences may be fleeting and impossible to recall, while distant memories often crystallize. The Michael C. Carlos Museum and the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center have created “Museum Moments,” a program designed to inspire discussion with caregivers and individuals living with Alzheimer’s.

“Museum Moments was created to spark the imagination, invite conversation, and form connections through art,” says Betsy Ayers, assistant director of development for the Michael C. Carlos Museum. The program was initiated by Emily Lu 05C 12M, an Emory medical student who worked in collaboration with Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC), and Julie Green in the Office of Educational Programs. "When I learned that Emory had both a wonderful museum on campus and world-class Alzheimer's care, I couldn't have been more excited at the possibilities,” Lu said. Green adds, "The program developed quickly with the outstanding help of Emily Lu and the ADRC staff, and has become a favorite with Carlos Museum docents. The couples are eager to be here, excited by the artwork and often share touching stories that trigger memories from others in the group. This tour is about taking time, taking care, and inviting reflection. It is a very heartwarming experience."

Ayers explains the format for Emory’s program, modeled after the “Meet Me at MoMA” program. “During the tour, visitors interact with museum docents and explore four works of art, sharing observations and opinions. The experience empowers them to share their thoughts and memories and studies have shown that their outlook and energy level increases.”

The art tours can be a revelation for family members. At the end of one Museum Moments tour, a spouse/caregiver shared: “My husband and I have been married 45 years and I have never heard some of the stories he shared today about his early life.” 

"We're seeing growing evidence that keeping people with memory loss or dementia engaged in social activities like museum tours is key in both improving their quality of life and helping stimulate their cognitive function," says Allan Levey  MD PhD, director of the Emory Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and chair of the department of neurology at Emory University School of Medicine. "As our society ages, programs like Museum Moments are vitally important to keep the memory loss community, both patients and caregivers, engaged with the world around them." 

"We believe that through this engagement with art, both participants and their care partners have the opportunity to exchange thoughts and ideas, share individual experiences, and access memories," says Ken Hepburn PhD, clinical core director of the Emory ADRC and professor at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. "This program is the perfect example of how we care for our patients not only in the clinical sense, but we also do our best to take care of them and their care givers emotionally and socially."  

Register for Museum Moments Programs

To date, 180 people have participated in Museum Moments. The Museum’s hope is to obtain funding to offer an art-making workshop as a further expansion of the program. Participants would have the opportunity of coming for a tour, and returning later in the month for a studio workshop with a board-certified art therapist and Carlos Museum Docent, Edna Bacon, who is consulting on this aspect of the program. 

Museum Moments tours are scheduled once a month. Reservations are required by calling Nina West at 404.727.0519. Individuals with mild cognitive impairment, early Alzheimer's, or dementia are invited to attend Museum Moments tours with their family member or caregiver.

Michael C. Carlos Museum membership supports innovative programs like Museum Moments. For more information on how you can become a member and gain access to unique museum experiences, please click here.

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Michelle Valigursky