An assisted-living facility in Liverpool, England, was confronted with an unusual dilemma in 2013: An elderly resident with severe dementia suddenly became terrified of water and showering — and categorically refused to bathe.
“His demeanor and his well-being started disintegrating. It became socially unacceptable,” recalled Carol Rogers, executive director for education and visitors at National Museums Liverpool, a complex of eight cultural venues that developed and now operates a dementia program. “The other older people didn’t want him in the day room. It wasn’t pleasant for them, and there was a loss of dignity for him.”
When the museums were contacted for advice, they offered one of their memory-stimulating suitcases: one that was linked to bathing. Inside was a bar of strong-smelling carbolic soap, a kind widely used during the war years.
“It evoked a very strong memory for him, of sitting in front of the fire at bath time,” Ms. Rogers said. “They got him to bathe with it and managed to get him integrated back into the community.”
That suitcase is one of about 40 that have been devised as part of House of Memories, the Liverpool Museums’ multipronged dementia program, which just celebrated its fifth birthday. The program also has its own app, offers training days for caregivers and family members, and memory walks, hourlong guided tours of the Museum of Liverpool devised to get older visitors to share their memories of life in the city.
The suitcases cover 1930 to 1980. Themes include transportation, the natural world and ethnicity; for example, Irish and Afro-Caribbean people are among the groups represented.