Trunks of familiar objects help seniors unlock memories

Madam Tay Ah Lay (centre), 83, and other Heritage Trunks programme participants having their make-up done by volunteer stylists yesterday. In the programme - launched by the National Heritage Board in collaboration with St Luke's ElderCare - themed t
Madam Tay Ah Lay (centre), 83, and other Heritage Trunks programme participants having their make-up done by volunteer stylists yesterday. In the programme - launched by the National Heritage Board in collaboration with St Luke's ElderCare - themed trunks of authentic objects from the 1950s to 1980s are curated and distributed to seniors to spur conversations and reminiscences.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
The first series of trunks in the programme featured items related to three themes: Dressing Up, Lifestyle and Entertainment, and Everyday Living.
The first series of trunks in the programme featured items related to three themes: Dressing Up, Lifestyle and Entertainment, and Everyday Living.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Heritage Trunks initiative aims to stimulate conversations and encourage reminiscences

In his younger days, Mr Chia Wang Chong would dab a bit of Florida Water cologne - a cheaper alternative to French perfumes - on his neck before going out after a hard day of menial work.

For Mr Chia, now 71, the familiar sight of the Florida Water label brings back warm memories of its fragrance and his drinking sessions with his buddies.

He was a participant in the Heritage Trunks programme, where themed trunks containing authentic objects from the 1950s to 1980s - gathered from antique shops - were curated and distributed to seniors to stimulate conversations and encourage reminiscences.

The first series of trunks featured a collection of objects related to three themes: Dressing Up, Lifestyle and Entertainment, and Everyday Living.

The programme was launched yesterday by the National Heritage Board (NHB) in collaboration with St Luke's ElderCare.

Eight seniors from the group's Ayer Rajah Centre opened up the Dressing Up trunk containing nine items, such as a tin of Johnson's baby powder, a white handbag, a cosmetics case and a bottle of Mr Chia's favourite Florida Water cologne.

They took turns looking at the objects, accompanied by a volunteer who asked questions and prompted them to share memories associated with the items.

CURATORS OF CONTENT

We hope to reuse and repurpose objects from the past as memory triggers and conversation starters, and to re-position our institutions as more than just 'collectors of objects', but rather as curators of content that can contribute to the well-being of an ageing society.

MR ALVIN TAN, deputy chief executive (policy and community) of NHB.

"A lot of young people don't know what kind of life we lived back then. Now there is an opportunity for them to hear all the ah gong, ah mah stories," said Mr Chia.

St Luke's ElderCare chief operating officer Lester Leong said: "We do a lot of reminiscence therapy with our seniors and this programme helps to unlock (their) memories."

He added: "Almost 50 per cent of our seniors have dementia, and the hope is that seeing these familiar objects will encourage them, especially the quieter ones, to share more on their rich life experiences."

Mr Alvin Tan, deputy chief executive (policy and community) of NHB, said: "We hope to reuse and repurpose objects from the past as memory triggers and conversation starters, and to re-position our institutions as more than just 'collectors of objects', but rather as curators of content that can contribute to the well-being of an ageing society."

Twelve Heritage Trunks - four of each theme - will be available for loan at no cost to healthcare and social service organisations from July this year. Feedback from St Luke's ElderCare staff and seniors will contribute to the making of future series of trunks.

The opening of the Dressing Up trunk yesterday was complemented by a make-up session by volunteer stylists for the seniors - to their delight.

"I almost didn't recognise myself!" said Madam Goh Ger Eng, 87, adding that she never dressed up when she was younger because she was always busy taking care of her six children.

"I never imagined this would happen, because I'm already so old. I feel like I'm about to get married!"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2019, with the headline 'Trunks of familiar objects help seniors unlock memories'. Print Edition | Subscribe