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MN Historical Society creates app to help people with dementia

It's filled with pictures of items from the past, meant to help people with dementia remember what they can.

ST PAUL, Minn. — St. Paul, MN -- The Minnesota History Center is filled with pieces of Minnesota's past. A new app they've helped create will now use their archives to help people with dementia remember their own. 

"It is designed by and for people with dementia," said Maren Levad, Museum Access Specialist for the Minnesota Historical Society of the My House of Memories app.  

My House of Memories was first created by a museum in Liverpool. The MHS partnered with them to create the first U.S. version. It's filled with pictures of items from the past, meant to help people with dementia remember what they can.

"Short-term memory is one of the first things to go. However, long-term memory can stay much longer," said Levad, "Often times people...can speak to things that they remember from their childhood or early adulthood. So, we have all that stuff at our museum."

Every picture on the app was taken of items that are in the History Center's collection. They include everything from a picture of the front page of the Pioneer Press reporting on the moon landing to toys which were popular in the past. 

The app is meant to be a conversation starter for caregivers. 

"When I was living with my parents, my grandmother came to live with us," Levad said, "She lived with us briefly when she started to exhibit signs of dementia. Because I didn't have this training and the understanding of how to engage with her, often times I would just talk about the weather, or we wouldn't talk at all. And it was a really hard time, because I felt like I was failing my grandmother."

Levad says they spent about two years sifting through the History Center's collection to find items, then test them with people who have dementia to see if they "sparked joy." 

Which really, Levad says, is the point.

"They're wonderful, wonderful people who are trying every day to find joy in their lives and they just need a little bit of help," she said. 

The app is free. 

The Minnesota Historical Society hopes other museums across the country jump on board and add their collections, too, so people beyond Minnesota can relate to the images in the app.