Life story on an iPad for people with dementia

A Perth-based occupational therapist has developed a new app for people with dementia that can record their life stories and be used as a tool to guide person-centred care.

The My Life Story app allows users to create a photo slideshow accompanied by music and voice recordings and loaded onto touchscreen devices like the iPad.

Creator Genevieve Major said it was not only aimed at promoting positive experiences and feelings of wellbeing for people with dementia, but also for carers and nurses as a reminiscing tool when the person enters residential aged care.

Ms Major said the use of stories and reminiscing to improve mood was well researched and widely used by occupational and other therapists, but it was under-utilised in institutional care.

She said there were two main inspirations behind developing the app, which she has developed in association with Perth design agency Gramercy Studios.

“One was I started to see lots of research about how music engages the minds of people with dementia, and at the same time there was a study from the University of Worcester in the UK on the benefits of touchscreen technology for people with dementia,” she said.

“The two ideas came together and I thought if we could be more engaged with the younger generation because of the touchscreen technology, and then include more engaging things like music and voice recordings and life stories, that would be awesome.”

The app works by bringing together a slideshow of photos that can be captioned along with music, text and voice recordings, which Ms Major said were often used with people with dementia.

“Depending on the level of the person with dementia, you can choose to have all of those things, none of those things, just the photos and the music, or just text if they can still read,” she said.

“Once it is set up it plays as a slideshow. It is all pre-set, so all the person with dementia needs to do is press play, and then it plays through. You can change how long you want each slide to stay on for, but that is all pre-set, so the person with dementia doesn't have to worry about fiddling around with buttons. If the person is capable they can pause it and go back, but for the most part it will just play through.”

Ms Major said the app can be used as a useful tool when a person first enters residential aged care in that not only do nurses and other staff get to know the person, but as a conversation starter for regular carers.

“When the person first goes in the family can bring it to the initial admission meeting, but then what we have been finding is that the managers or the nurses are using it in handover for the first week or so of the new person being there,” she said.

“They can just play it so everyone gets to know the person. Then once the person is settled in, it can be used as a reminiscing tool or as a one-to-one conversation starter. Carers often find it difficult to think of something to talk about with the person because they see them every day, so that is how the wellbeing comes into it.

“The research has shown that if the person with dementia has a positive emotional experience, they will keep feeling positive even after they have forgotten why they feel positive. It is that emotional hangover in that you can create positive wellbeing [on an ongoing basis] from using tools like this.”

It can also help nurses and carers in developing strong relationships with the person with dementia, she said. “Once you get to know a person, then the way you care for them and treat them is completely different.”

The My Life Story app is available on the iTunes store for $9.99. Ms Major is marketing it through word of mouth and her networks of dementia care service providers, memory clinics, community centres and nursing homes.

Posted in Aged Care

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