Editor’s note: this article was first published on 3 October 2020 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Sometimes, it’s hard to hold onto memories as the years go by, with items evolving to look nothing like how they used to look. Televisions of yesteryear consisted of large bulky boxes and grainy images; now, as the mantra goes, the thinner and the higher-definition, the better. We used to rely on laserdiscs, large iridescent discs that contain just one movie; today, a click of a button reveals a treasure trove of unlimited shows available via streaming platforms.
Indeed, how times have changed. Unfortunately, the onset of dementia may rob some of our elderly of some of these precious memories. However, who’s to say that we can’t help them unlock and recall some of them?
Take a trip down memory lane
Launched by Singapore’s National Heritage Board (NHB), National Museums Liverpool, and the British Council, the ‘House of Memories’ app offers multimedia features and images that bring everyday items from the past to life. Initially launched back in 2014 in the United Kingdom, this app was first adapted for use in the United States, before making its foray into Asia.
The app was first created by Carol Rogers, the Director of Engagement at National Museums Liverpool. In 2011, her dementia-stricken mother was having trouble remembering items and occasions. Rogers then resorted to painstakingly pasting multiple post-it notes on photographs, in a bid to remind her mother about important occasions and dates. After seeing how this helped her mother, she realised that marrying the power of objects and personal life history could indeed prove to be a turning point in helping people who live with dementia.
She then went on to collaborate with the NHB and British Council Singapore to further develop the app. Building on success in other countries, this app has proven to be incredibly useful — life-changing, even! — for caregivers in interacting with elderly dementia patients. In a nutshell, the app offers a precious blast to the past, a digitised version.
How does it work?
Described as a ‘digital scrapbook’ of sorts, the app showcases items from the 1930s to 1990s. A local version of the app includes 100 items from Singapore’s National Collection, as well as 11 objects from the Alzheimer’s Disease Association. These objects were specially curated by NHB and the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) during organised community consultation sessions with over 40 seniors from NTUC Health.
The app has two modes to play around with. The first is ‘Museum Memories’, which boasts a diverse library of multimedia content such as images, videos, as well as sound recordings of objects from the past.
Functioning somewhat like a trivia game, each object offers a hint that prompts the individual to recall a memory associated with the object and share anecdotes on that particular memory. Seniors are encouraged to vocalise their thoughts and start a conversation with their caregivers, which helps to stimulate their mind in the process.
The objects are categorised into six key themes: ‘Lifestyle’, ‘Food and Drink’, ‘Household Items’, ‘Jobs’, ‘Growing Up’, as well as ‘Festivals and Special Occasions’. Expect to see relatable items such as a photograph of the first HDB flats in Toa Payoh, which would probably bring back poignant memories of many seniors’ first homes after the kampungs; or the Setron television set, which was the first black-and-white television set that was locally manufactured in 1964.
The second mode is called ‘My Memories’, which allows users to contribute by taking and uploading photographs. These photographs can be of significant everyday objects, special occasions, or even pictures of people whom they hold close to heart. These images will be stored in a personal archive of sorts for easy use and retrieval, allowing users to create their own heritage resource.
The app also comes with visual- and hearing-impaired options. Designed with seniors in mind, the user-friendly interface channels simplicity with clean layouts, large icons, and voiceovers. The app’s content is currently being presented in English; however, there are plans to progressively translate the content into Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil next year.
What more is being done?
Ranked 16th out of 30 cities in a Global Dementia Innovation Readiness Index, Singapore has indeed made laudable progress in providing adequate support for those living with dementia. The city scored high in areas such as community support, strategy, and commitment; however, we still have much to improve when it comes to early detection and diagnosis.
With more funding being channelled towards long-term care, including for dementia, there’s no doubt that Singapore will definitely make further headway in time to come!
Museum-led training sessions
Together with the launch of the app in Singapore, NHB together with National Museums Liverpool and AIC, will conduct various museum-led dementia awareness training sessions. These sessions are targeted at families and caregivers of elderly living with dementia, as well as health and social care professionals.
These sessions will teach them how to use the app and the importance of using memories to further enrich the lives of those living with dementia and the people taking care of them. Also functioning as an all-in-one resource, the app contains information on dementia in Singapore, recommended caregiving practices, suggestions for activities, and relevant contacts should anyone require additional help.
This project is introduced as part of the Silver Hubs initiative, which was launched at the Malay Heritage Centre, Indian Heritage Centre, and the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall. This includes age-friendly activities such as ‘Heritage Trunks’ and ‘Conversation Starter Kits’ to help stimulate interaction between the elderly and those around them; or guided ‘Reminiscence Walks’ around various heritage districts in Singapore.
The Lien Foundation, a Singapore Charity Foundation, has also collaborated with Lekker Architects, as well as Lanzavecchia + Wai Design Studio to create Hack Care, an IKEA-esque catalogue containing D.I.Y tips and tricks to create dementia-friendly homes.
Hack Care contains 240 pages, comprising a comprehensive compilation of hacks, personal anecdotes, as well as online instruction manuals. This catalogue is aimed at helping those with dementia and their caregivers create a friendly and cohesive home that’s cohesive for all, no matter their condition.
Credit: Lanzavecchia + Wai
Creative solutions to circumvent unspoken stigma
A tongue-in-cheek play on the colloquial term ‘heck care’, the catalogue aims to circumvent the unspoken stigma associated with dementia, and show that one can care better for those suffering from dementia – with the help of simple D.I.Y. hacks, or creative solutions.
Aptly put by Lee Poh Wah, the CEO of Lien Foundation, “Living with dementia is daunting and our everyday home environments do not always anticipate or meet the unique needs of people battling cognitive and physical frailty. These challenges can be mitigated with good design that is functional, inspirational and accessible, and shaped by the shared experiences of caregivers who have been on a similar journey.”
Functional tips in catalogue
The book is aligned along 10 guiding principles, such as letting persons with dementia play an active role; encouraging decision-making; affirming their sense of self; having simple conveniences within easy reach; not forgetting the simple pleasures; simplifying the environment; and more. Aside from these functional tips, the book also contains stories and anecdotes from professional caregivers who have helped those living with dementia.
Five hundred copies of the catalogue will be given out for free; if you’re interested in procuring a hard copy, do submit a request via the Hack Care website, where soft copies can also be downloaded at no cost.