“Reminiscence therapy” is an important treatment for patients with dementia: Exposing them to sensory experiences that evoke long-term memories can aid recall of their own personal histories. That includes sharing photographs of familiar scenes and objects from the patients’ younger years.
To support that effort, National Museums Liverpool has developed a breakthrough app called “My House of Memories,” which lets users scroll through over 100 pages of images that are meant to trigger memories in dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.
The app is part of a bigger House of Memories program that also provides workshops and outreach dementia help. But for those who can’t travel to physical workshop outposts, the technology can come to you.
So how does it work? The app pulls images of widely recognized objects that are meant to resonate with those who grew up in and around the 1950s.
The app is starting to partner with more museums, like the Minnesota Historical Society and the Republic of Singapore’s National Collection to provide images specific to memory loss patients from different regions. And as the museum specialists realized early on, specific is better.
“The image choice was very important; there have to be multiple ways for people to engage with what they are seeing on their screen,” Maren Levad, museum access specialist for the Minnesota Historical Society, told Next Avenue.
App users preferred an old-timey black lunchbox to just any lunch pail, for example, and service veterans were very particular about the uniforms they were shown.
Considerable reached out to Levad for additional insights into how her institution has used the app. “We went around the state for a year, testing with people 45 to 100 years old with dementia of all different cultural backgrounds to find really universal objects,” she said.
Levad was instrumental in bringing the app to the US. When MNHS first partnered with My House of Memories, the Liverpudlians thought they’d be able to keep about half of the British objects and replace the other half with American images, but Levad said the American images are almost entirely different.
Take sports, for example — sports that evoke memories in the UK, like British football and cricket, don’t resonate in the US at all. Even British roller skates, a popular pastime in the ’50s, were designed differently than US. roller skates.
Levad told Considerable she also took special interest in providing images that will benefit a variety of cultural communities. African-Americans in the U.S. are two times likelier to develop dementia than Caucasians, for example, and respond well to images of social events and faith-based community gatherings
The app itself is easy and intuitive to use. There’s no swiping from image to image, a motion that plenty of technology users have gotten used to, but might confuse dementia patients who’d rather press a button.
A new feature in the app called “My Memories” lets users upload their own photos to spark personal memories and feelings as well and help spark conversations.
Caretakers are encouraged to ask questions like, “What would you like to cook in this kitchen?” instead of, “Do you remember this kitchen?” to let potential memories surface naturally instead of forcing them.
And if a smaller museum and organization wants to get involved but doesn’t want to slog through the multi-year grant process it took Minnesota and Singapore to get here? “We encourage smaller museums to upload their images into the My Memories section for their outreach,” Levad said. They can use a mix of MNHS images and their own collections the same way families would
As the success and popularity of the app increases, expect to see more national museums partnering with the app to help specialize the experience and give caretakers a solid starting ground with their loved ones.