Fighting dementia: new app to help people remember their past

Welsh social enterprise helps elderly people create their multimedia life’s story book

Book of You is a Welsh social enterprise based in Ruthin, North Wales, Founded by Tom and Kathy Barham (Photo by Book of You)

People with dementia are finding ways to remember key moments in their life thanks to an innovative digital project.

The new app allows people to record their photographs to turn key moments of their life into a storybook that can play a therapeutic role.

“So many times people have said that they don’t have anything, their life is very boring, but once you get to know that people and talk to them, everybody has done something really interesting, and we try to make a sort of life story with them,” says Kathy Barham, co-founder of Book of You.

The project started with the idea of creating a memory box where anyone could add what they want but the initial printed version was soon joined with a digital one to make the most of the benefits of reminiscence therapy.

Book of You offers people the ability to create their life story from scratch through their website with the minimum requirement of an internet connection.

The layout of the app is simple enough for elderly to use it (Photo by Book of You)

By logging into the website, people can start creating an account and from there start building their book by adding a cover, posting photos, captions, videos and whatever they like.

“A lot of elder people have reached that point in their life where they want to pass something down like a legacy to grandchildren, great grandchildren to show what they have done,” Kathy says.

What is reminiscence therapy for the elderly?

The service can be used by everyone but the way it is designed gears toward people living with dementia.

The project is based on the principle that photographs, songs, films and other multimedia contents can stimulate people’s memories of the past.

Once these flashbacks awaken, people develop positive feelings and relieve others such as stress and agitation.

“What we did over the last two years was create a social value report, because isn’t all about the money you save, it’s about the difference it makes to people’s life, so using those case studies, we have been able to create a rather large report, just to show people the benefits,” says Kathy.

Normally, Kathy would drive across Wales to meet face-to-face people who wish to create their book offering support and knowledge, but during lockdown visiting care homes became almost impossible.

She had to find new ways to carry on meetings and in doing so she began recruiting 50 new digital volunteers within care homes who could act as intermediaries.

Thanks to a fund from Community Foundation Wales, Book of You has now developed an app that will be launched shortly with the purpose of reaching many more people.

During lockdown families living far away had the possibility to keep in touch by contributing to the creation of their book, but the service also helped rebuild the bonds between family members.

“It makes people happy, because people love talking about themselves usually, and it brings families close together, so people began to learn about the family,” says Kathy.