Memory is the ability to collect, process, store and recall visual and verbal information from our environment. 

Short term memory

Short term memory allows us to keep small amounts of information for a short period of time. In a museum setting, the participant might have difficulty remembering small bits of information, like the first step of a 3-step activity, the name of the artwork they just saw or the facilitator’s name from the beginning to the end of the session .

This is important to understand as changes in a person’s short-term memory are seen early in the disease.

Long term memory

Long term memory refers to unlimited information and memories collected over a person’s lifetime. This includes being able to remember specific events that happened in the person’s life, as well as facts and concepts that give a person general knowledge of the world. Although long term memory does decline as dementia progresses,  this typically happens later in the disease and is better preserved than short term memory.

This is important because experiences with art and museum collections can draw upon earlier memories to encourage recollections of past experiences, and can be a great way to connect with other participants and partners.  They can also draw out knowledge acquired over a lifetime, providing meaningful and empowering opportunities to be heard.

When areas of the brain that are responsible for long term memory are impacted, the participant may mix up timelines in their personal history.  They may have trouble remembering previously known facts, and / or have difficulty answering questions related to factual knowledge.

Procedural memory and emotional memory

Procedural memory and emotional memory are also part of long-term memory. These two types of memory don’t require conscious thought, and are typically retained until the later stages of the disease.   Procedural skills are skills and habits such as brushing teeth or making coffee and emotional memories are responses caused by certain stimuli like being happy when a special song comes on the radio or seeing a beloved family member.  These types of memory are important as they are strengths which can be drawn upon to foster engagement.