It’s a scenario that you may know well if your parent or senior loved one has dementia: they may not recognize anyone from the recent past, but familiar photos and songs can restore memories and prompt stories from decades earlier.
That’s the idea behind the “My House of Memories” app, developed by the U.K.’s National Museums Liverpool charity and supported in the United States by the Minnesota Historical Society. The app is designed as a conversation-starter for caregivers and people with dementia. Read more about the app and how your family can utilize it to prompt conversations and share memories with seniors.
As dementia progresses, memories from early life can be the bridge that connects people with dementia to their caregivers and loved ones. However, it’s not always easy to spark those memories with seniors, because younger caretakers and relatives may not know what films, images, or songs will resonate with the person they’re caring for.
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Prompts like music and photos can help everyone find those memories, so loved ones with dementia feel more socially engaged and less isolated. The My House of Memories app was designed to be just that – a conversation-starter to help bridge the gap between caregivers and loved ones of people with dementia.
The free app is available for Android and iOS phones and tablets, and it’s about as user-friendly as an app for busy caregivers of seniors can be. Text screens include audio narration — helpful for those of us who struggle to read on small screens — and the interface is easy to use as well.
First, families can choose the U.K. or U.S. edition of the app. This matters, because there’s a different set of objects for each country.
Next, you can start browsing and saving museum objects with your parent or senior loved one. The items are sorted into several categories which include:
In each category, you can download the set of images and sounds to browse offline. Then you can tap “browse museum memories” to scroll through the set. In the “Home Sweet Home” collection, the first object that drew my eye was a photo of the classic 1930s-vintage black Bakelite rotary phone like the one my late grandmother had for most of her life.
You can tap on the image to hear it ring, get a brief summary of how the phone revolutionized calling and see photos of a vintage phone manual and a ‘50s teenager talking on her phone. It’s easy to see how these descriptions and images could start a conversation about what it was like when your loved one got their first phone, who they enjoyed talking to and more.
You can also add any object to a “memory box” in the app for easy retrieval later or take photos in the app and add them to your collection.
The app is just one element of the House of Memories dementia awareness program. House of Memories also provides training and support for museums who want to participate and add their local and regional collections to the app. In some cases, museums have put together memory boxes that relate to cultures that are prevalent in their local communities. Some institutions have also revamped their sites to be more welcoming to people with dementia.
The House of Memories program offers UK-based workshops for family caregivers who can travel. It also offers free tutorials on how to create memory boxes and memory trees — craft projects that over time build a collection of pictures and objects that spark happy memories for seniors with dementia. These tools offer another way for people with dementia to stay connected to their environment. They’re also easy to look at and talk about with others when there’s not a caregiver available to use the app together.
To get the most benefit from the House of Memories tools and the time you spend together, check out these tips on making meaningful connections with loved ones with dementia.
How have you connected and shared memories with seniors? We’d like to hear any other suggestions and tips that you are willing to share, in the comments below.