Museums and Alzheimer’s
A social and cultural inclusion project

A joint effort by museum educators and geriatric activity coordinators to engage elderly people with cognitive decline and their caregivers.

Museums and Alzheimer’s

The project

Museums for Alzheimer’s is a network project created to foster the social and cultural inclusion of elderly people with cognitive decline and their caregivers in the museums of the the Empoli Valdelsa area museum system – the Museo Diffuso dell’Empolese Valdelsa – MuDEV.

The planning and implementation of activities, as well as evaluation and analysis of the project, involves the cooperative efforts of museum educators and geriatric activity coordinators.

The project’s multiple aims include:

  • Contributing to developing and defining the identity of museums and libraries in the network as places that facilitate the accessibility and visibility of their varied contents and where visitors can have relational and learning experiences and opportunities for inclusive and intergenerational gathering, and be engaged participants in the civic development of community sensitivity to issues of accessibility to cultural contexts for vulnerable categories of people;
  • Enhancing the original communicative potential of each museum context, using techniques and mediation strategies for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers;
  • Contributing to building a social network in the local territory, sharing the necessary skills to welcome the elderly from the health-assistance and cultural points of view.

Activities focus on the creation of relational experiences with artworks and museum assets, to stimulate imagination and creativity, using each person’s communication abilities, including non-verbal. Forms of tactile, auditory and olfactory sensory stimulation are used as tools to foster and encourage verbal and non-verbal personal and emotional expression.


The activities are open to people from residential assisted living facilities and day care facilities around the local area, and to people living in family settings and all those who take care of them, including professional caregivers, family members, relatives, friends, home health aides and volunteers with local associations.

Since 2022 the program has been accredited by the Società della Salute Empolese Valdelsa Valdarno, and appointments at museums fall within the category of non-home-based activities that can be prescribed by multi-dimensional evaluation units as part of home-care support plans.


Initiatives designed to foster museum accessibility for people dealing with the challenges of dementia were first launched just over a decade ago in the United States, but have already spread considerably in Europe as well. In the Italian panorama, Tuscany has had some significant results: after the first projects at Palazzo Strozzi and the Marino Marini Museum in Florence, today programs for people with dementia have been launched in nearly every Tuscan province thanks to the Musei Toscani per l’Alzheimer network.

The initiator of a Musei Toscani per l’Alzheimer project within the Mudev system was the BeGo – Benozzo Gozzoli Museum in Castelfiorentino which, in 2013, participated in a training project promoted by the Marino Marini Museum in Florence along with several association, supported by the Region of Tuscany. Since 2014, program activities have been regularly offered and included in the museum’s range of educational services.

From 2015 to 2019, the planning effort– made possible by bringing together the skills and knowledge of museum educators and professionals in the geriatric field- expanded to progressively involve a growing number of museums and assisted-care facilities around the local territory. In 2018, the project expanded to include libraries in the network as well: the active involvement of librarians contributed to promoting the creation of narrative-creative activities involving poetry for people with dementia.

The year 2020 was of course disrupted by the covid-19 pandemic, an experience that abruptly altered plans and programs: like all institutions, the Mudev’s museums, closed or open only with extremely limited access, wondered how to continue to make their assets accessible and usable for the public, and especially how to continue to foster relations with caregivers, and between caregivers and the people they care for, who were among the subjects most affected by solitude, isolation, and lack of contacts with communities.

Technology and the web were a natural response, a means to try to avoid interrupting relationships that had been built over years, and to experiment with new forms of communication using the historical-artistic heritage found in local museums.

Aided by the training course for remote activities promoted by the Musei Toscani per l’Alzheimer system, a program of monthly online appointments via Zoom was planned.

The program of remote appointments was called Museums for Alzheimer’s – Far away but close, and it was the first response to the need to re-establish contacts, to maintain relationships built over years of in-person activities at museums with the elderly and their caregivers, and to share the beauty of the heritage our museums hold, even, and especially, in a particularly difficult and painful period, feeling close to one another and supporting one another.

The notebook

An important part of the remote program was the planning and creation of a Notebook: Far away but close – Tools and suggestions for staying together”.

The Notebook is conceived and structured as a work tool to be used independently by groups in residential care facilities and by families in pairs – an elderly person and a caregiver – or small groups.

It was designed at a time when we were forced to spend a great deal of time alone to protect ourselves from the risk of contagion: guests of residential health care facilities had to give up visits from family or friends, and people who normally went to day facilities were suddenly without that service, with deleterious consequences for them and for family caregivers as well.

The Notebook was an attempt to respond to the need to fill time by finding something healthy and creative to do together.

It contains a theoretical section with strategies for keeping channels of communication open with the people we take care of, and a section focusing on encounters with artworks, structured to maximize opportunities for expression for people with dementia through different stimuli.

The Notebook is a living tool: the operational/practical section was expanded every month with the addition of a new image from one of the participating museums, along with some open questions and suggestions to facilitate storytelling.

It can be used anytime – professional or family caregivers can independently try out the various activities provided, interacting with the artworks through questions and suggestions proposed. They are invited to write down and document the phases of the experience and send them to the work group via email.