Dementia-friendly app for seniors to jolt memories with museum-provided content coming to Singapore in 2020

Ms Carol Rogers meticulously pasted Post-It notes on photographs as reminders of important dates such as birthdays for her dementia-stricken mother who was moved into a care facility in 2011. Little did she know that this method would be broadened and adapted to become a digital tool for dementia patients worldwide, including Singapore.

On Monday (29 April), Ms Rogers signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Heritage Board (NHB) and the British Council Singapore to launch a mobile application called My House of Memories that was developed for dementia patients and their caregivers.

“I understood the power of objects, and the personal life history of my mum was enhanced and enabled by those interventions,” the director of engagement in the National Museums Liverpool of the United Kingdom said.

Launched in the United Kingdom in 2015 and introduced in the United States last year, the app was developed by the National Museums Liverpool to provide tools and techniques from a museum-led dementia awareness training programme called House of Memories.

In the UK, the app already has around 30,000 users. More than 12,000 health and social care professionals and family carers have already accessed the House of Memories dementia awareness training programme across the UK and internationally.

My House of Memories is a digital resource for museum artefacts that acts as a personal archive to help jolt and elicit the deeply-held memories of dementia-stricken patients.

The app has two modes: Museum Memories, which features multimedia content such as images, videos and sound recordings, and My Memories which allows users to take and upload individual photographs of significant objects in their everyday lives.

“Museums can be fantastic resources to help unlock memories, improve communication and understanding, and enrich the lives of those living with dementia,” Ms Rogers said.

Like a memory trivia game, each object features a hint that directs the dementia patient to think about the memory associated with it and “stimulates conversations”, she added.

Available for both iOS and Android devices, the app has visual and hearing impairment options. It also comes with a senior-friendly interface including simple layouts and prominent icons to orientate users, as well as voiceovers for certain commands and icons that users can press on the screen.

Singapore’s edition of the app will feature about 100 objects from the national collection, which consists of around 250,000 artwork and artefacts. Some of the 250,000 pieces are on display in NHB’s museums and heritage institutions, while the others are housed in the Heritage Conservation Centre.

This will be the first time the app will be made available in Asia. It will be released to the public in English by the end of 2020, while translations into Singapore’s other official languages will be made available at a later date.

NHB’s chief executive officer Chang Hwee Nee said that these pieces could act as conversation starters “for reminiscence, sharing and bonding”.

NHB’s deputy chief executive of policy and community Alvin Tan said that in about a year, the app will be tested by the staff members and patients at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital to see if dementia patients could relate to the selected artwork and artefacts.

“We really want to test the objects to make sure they are really relevant and useful to the target audience,” Mr Tan said.

The app development will be funded by NHB and the British Council in Singapore, whereas National Museums Liverpool will provide the knowledge and expertise, he added.

Health and social care professionals, family, friends and care partners will be trained to understand how the app can be used to better support dementia patients.

NHB intends to introduce this project as part of its Silver Hubs Initiative launched last year at its three heritage institutions — the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, Malay Heritage Centre and Indian Heritage Centre.

The Silver Hubs programmes include Reminiscence Walks, a guided heritage tour for seniors around Balestier, Kampong Glam and Little India, which aims to facilitate conversations based on the sights, smells and sounds experienced along these walks.

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