A BBC archive of video clips and photographs dating back to the 1930’s is helping people living with dementia rediscover long-term memories, following a collaboration with researchers and Alzheimer’s Society.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common reason for dementia, causes cell degeneration in areas of the brain responsible for short-term memory. But long-term memory can remain intact, meaning the distant past can often be remembered more clearly than recent events.

Footage from the archive, BBC RemArc, shows everyday scenes as well as more memorable events: couples at a ballroom dance in 1956, children playing in a schoolyard, the 1948 Olympic Games in London, and the moon landings.

It contains almost 1,500 video segments, audio clips, and photographs, compiled by the BBC’s Archive Development team, with help from researchers at Dundee University, the University of St Andrews, and Alzheimer’s society.

It was designed as a tool for reminiscence therapy which stimulates long-term memory using material from the past. This allows people with dementia to talk about their lives and interests in a more natural way.

Dr Norman Alm is an Honorary Research Fellow at Dundee Universit, ‘RemArc is a boon to people with dementia and just as importantly to their carers, who can sit back, relax, and enjoy the conversation, with RemArc doing all the heavy-lifting of supporting the interaction and keeping it lively, engaging, and importantly, unpredictable,’ he told the BBC.

Since its launch in 2016, 73 per cent of survey respondents from the 17,000 people who used BBC RemArc said that the service triggered long-term memories in them.

Kathryn Smith, Director of Operations at Alzheimer’s Society told the BBC, ‘It’s more important than ever that people with dementia are supported to live well with their condition. We know that reminiscence can be a powerful way of connecting people affected by dementia with their memories and improving their mood.

‘People who have used BBC’s RemArc talk really positively about their experience of it as a helpful reminiscence tool and enjoyable activity.’

Words: Sid Hayns-Worthington


Do more

Take a look at BBC RemArc here. Learn more about the work of Alzheimer’s Society here.