Whaling Museum ‘Making Memories’ for people with dementia


When it comes to helping people living with dementia and those who care for them, the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum is stepping up to the plate.

The museum joined with two other arts and cultural centers in the region – Huntington’s Heckscher Museum and Cinema Arts — to create a trio of programs. The Whaling Museum’s offering, “Making Memories Inspired by the Sea,” provides opportunities to stimulate new pathways of learning, expression and communication. The Whaling Museum has been participating in the program for nearly a year.

Marcy Rhodes, a social worker in the Huntington office of Rudansky and Winter, Neurology and Neuropsychiatry, said that visual arts, music, poetry and dance are all proving to be “extremely viable methods to stimulate memories and encourage creative thinking.” Participating in different forms of art serves as an alternative means for communication, and tempers anxious behaviors. Additionally, “a real important aspect of the programs is to provide a safe, welcoming place to socialize with others experiencing the same changes in their lives,” she added.

Nomi Dayan, the museum’s executive director, introduced the idea to the Whaling Museum after seeing “Exploring Art ... Making Memories,” at the Heckscher Museum, who began the dementia program in 2013. The program at the Whaling Museum began in August 2015 and Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre joined the consortium in December 2015. All three programs are bi-monthly.

“In each case, I have worked with the educational staff in developing creative arts programs that are accessible to individuals living with dementia,” Rhodes said.

Making Memories By The Sea, a craft-based program with the theme of “the power of the sail,” was offered at the Whaling Museum in July. After discussing why canvas sails were important on whale ships, participants created their own abstract patterned 16 x 20 canvas to take home. 

For one hour, a certified dementia care practitioner partnered with Rhodes to offer a respite from the difficulty and frustration experienced by those who suffer from dementia and their caregivers, providing a nurturing place for social interaction and creativity.

Past programs have included simple activities, such as making a stained glass sun catcher after learning about whale oil and how ships were lit in the 1800s, or working with clay, after discovering artifacts from the museum’s Native American collection.

The Heckscher's program is based on current exhibits and provides a dignified place in the community to enjoy visual arts, music and hands-on expressive arts experiences. Cinema Arts shows clips of iconic movies and television programs to spark memories. “Between each clip we encourage conversation and reminiscence,” says Rhodes. The Whaling Museum is offering a very craft-oriented experience reflecting the history of the local whaling industry.

The essence of all of these cultural arts programs is to provide opportunities that will stimulate new pathways of learning, expression and communication. 

“Care partners have so appreciated the opportunity to share new experiences in the community in venues that have been familiar in the past,” said Rhodes. “The museum educators in all instances have developed incredible warm, stimulating programs.”

The Whaling Museum’s program is focusing on the journey that is before those with dementia and those who care for them. Just as whalers once set out on long and sometimes frightening journeys and depended upon the inspiration of their shipmates who were literally “in the same boat,” the Making Memories program hopes to unite people and give them courage through their own journey.

The next Making Memories at the Whaling Museum will be on Sept.12 at 2:30. For further information, call (631) 367-3418.