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New app is a ‘mini-museum’ for dementia patients

October 8, 2018

An app developed in Liverpool, England, is getting its first American tryout at Charter House in Rochester.

House of Memories,” which is being launched here in conjunction with the Minnesota Historical Society, is designed for caregivers and families working and living with dementia patients. It seeks to stimulate memories and conversations by displaying on a tablet or smartphone screen a mix of photographs, objects, video and sounds from past decades.

“It was designed by and for people with dementia,” said Brian Hallett, a trainer with National Museums Liverpool, where the app was developed and launched in 2014. “They came up with some brilliant things.”

Hallett spent two days in Rochester last week training more than 200 staff members at Charter House, Mayo Clinic’s retirement community, in use of the app.

“It’s required for our health services staff, even maintenance and me,” said Tony Enquist, Charter House administrator. “We think it’s important. In a community, you may engage with someone who has some cognitive decline.”

The app, House of Memories, is free and can be downloaded by anyone. Viewers have a choice between the British or American versions when they initially log on. Obviously, the American version, with more than 100 interactive pages curated by the Minnesota Historical Society, will have greater relevance to people here.

“It’s basically a mini-museum,” Hallett said. “You’re taking the museum with you.”

Once the app is downloaded, it takes viewers down a memory lane of visuals already in place, and offers the option to add your own family photos or favorite pictures.

For example, does your loved one enjoy vintage autos? Simply load some pictures of his or her favorite cars on the app and start reminiscing. The same goes for sports, fashion, movies, neighbors, grandkids — almost anything that will make a connection.

Or, it’s easy enough to just enjoy what the historical society has made available.

“Think about the person you’re doing this with,” Hallett said. “What will work best for them?”

Hallett picked a photo of a can of SPAM as one example of what’s available on the app. Conversations might revolve around when and where SPAM was eaten, favorite recipes, perhaps military service, or making and selling the product.

There is also an “export” option that allows items to be shared with family and friends who might live elsewhere and not have regular contact with the patient and family members.

“It’s all about engagement with people,” Hallett said during a break in the training session. One of the current buzz-phrases in senior health care is “person-centered,” he said. “You can’t be person-centered unless you get to know the person,” he said.

Sharing the app with someone who has cognitive decline is not intended to be a memory test, Hallett said. In fact, he advised Charter House staff, “Be wary of making it a quiz: ‘Do you remember this?’” Instead, he said, “It’s a conversation starter.”

National Museums Liverpool has trained 12,000 caregivers in the United Kingdom in use of House of Memories. The connection with Mayo Clinic in the U.S., Hallett said, is “huge.”

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