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Reminiscing: How is it encouraging participation in Older Queenslanders?

Janelle Insley and Tony Coonan talk about the Reminiscence Program at the Cobb+Co Museum and the impact it has been having in aged care facilities in Toowoomba.

Reminiscing is the process of thinking and talking about past experiences.  It helps us to understand personal histories, and enrich perceptions of world events through personal reflection and story-telling. Tangible prompts such as photographs, familiar items from the past, or music and archive sound recordings, can bring back long forgotten memories and create meaningful moments of sharing and learning. 

Cobb+Co’s Reminiscence program originated from a desire to provide cultural stimulus and social contact to less active senior citizens in aged care facilities. It began in 2010 and has since been delivered on a regular basis to 10 aged care facilities within Toowoomba. The program is unique in its implementation – Museum volunteers, working with Diversional Therapists, make regular visits to nursing homes and use Queensland Museum loan kits to encourage residents to share their life experiences and interact as a group.  

A volunteer and two participants

The Reminiscence kits are especially designed around themes such as Home and Hearth, School Days and The War Years.  The objects in the kits act as a stimulus for discussion and reminiscence.  This style of engagement can assist in discouraging self-preoccupation and depression as well as contributing to the reduction of apathy and confusion in elderly residents. 
In many cases the process of ‘reminiscing’ has brought about the rekindling of interest in past hobbies and activities for residents, or in some instances, surprising personal impact. On one occasion, a lady in the high care unit who had not spoken for a long time, responded to a taxidermy cockatoo – this lady had a toy cockatoo on her walker. Prior to the implementation of this program, many of the residents who now participate had little or no access to cultural activities. The high levels of engagement demonstrate the power of learning and sharing experiences, created through interaction with museum objects and collections.

Discussion at the Reminiscence Program

The volunteers who deliver the Reminiscence program, many of whom are retired, also report a number of benefits from their involvement.  In many cases it has assisted them to develop their confidence after retiring from the paid workforce.  The training delivered to volunteer staff, in addition to their ongoing participation in the program, has resulted in an increase in their skills and knowledge.

The Reminiscence program has proved an invaluable way for Cobb+Co Museum to connect with this critical segment of the community, while providing immense value to all those involved.  This program continues to successfully create opportunities for residents and volunteers to share stories, enjoy a unique form of recreation and entertainment, participate in purposeful activity and promote lifelong learning. 

Cobb+Co is proud of this program and of the incredible volunteers who assist elderly people in celebrating their life’s achievements.  


Janelle Insley and Tony CoonanJanelle Insley is the Visitor Experience Manager, and Tony Coonan is the Learning Officer at Cobb+Co Museum.  Cobb+Co Museum is part of the Queensland Museum Network, a statutory body of the Queensland Government, and is home to the National Carriage Collection. Located in Toowoomba, the museum features extensive displays on the natural and cultural history of Toowoomba and the Darling Downs.




The Queensland Government recently launched the Queensland: an age friendly community – action plan. The plan provides a clear way forward to direct the implementation and delivery of age-friendly communities in Queensland. The Reminiscence Program is one of the actions under the Social Participation goal.

Feature image on AQ blog page: Reminiscence Program. Photo:Sam Friedrichs, Cobb+Co Museum