Healthy Living

What a Start-Up is Doing to Transform Alzheimer's Care

What a Start-Up is Doing to Transform Alzheimer's Care

One of the best characteristics of a well-planned start up is its ability to solve the problems of the world.  Whether it be in the realm of technology, medicine, or social media, startups have the unique advantage of operating with the use of a small yet agile team, as there are not nearly as many of the boundaries blocking innovation, as seen in much larger companies.  This being said, a company has managed to push the envelope and provide a unique solution to an otherwise common yet misunderstood problem in our world today. The company’s name is MemoryWell, a startup whose focus is geared towards bettering the long term care of patients suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's. 

The MemoryWell vision

MemoryWell is a company that started with the intention of bettering the life of patients and those surrounding them as they live with their diagnosis of either dementia or Alzheimer's.  They are striving to do so by conducting interviews with those who have been around the patients suffering with the ailment, such as friends and loved ones of the patient, to then put together a personalized, well crafted story, showcasing the life in which they lived. MemoryWell hopes that by doing this, the caretakers of the patients will have a better understanding of who they have been caring for.

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The company was rooted in a personal experience, one lived by the co-founder, named Jay Newton-Small. Newton-Small learned while still in college that her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a shocking revelation for the man whom she looked up to, a man who had lived a rich life, having been around the world thanks to his occupation.  Following this realization, in 2011, Newton-Small’s mother passed away, making her the primary caregiver to her father, a difficult and stressful undertaking for anyone.  Soon after this, Newton-Small had come to terms with the fact that she was not able to help him by herself, wherein she made the decision to place her father in a care home. 

After taking her father in, Newton-Small was asked to fill out a 20 page survey, describing the entirety of her father’s life.  As she sat down to begin, she said to herself, “these answers were so inadequate to describe my brilliant father, who’d spent 40 years traveling the world as a United Nations diplomat.”  It was at this time that Newton-Small made the decision to write a story herself, as she had written over a half a dozen of cover stories for TIME magazine, where she had worked for seven years as a correspondent.

By creating a straight forward, 1 page story of her father’s life, Newton-Small recounted that doing so had, “transformed his care… Two of his nurses were Ethiopian and they hadn't known that my father had spent four years there early in his career. They were delighted that he'd known Emperor Haile Selassie and they'd sit for hours showing him photos of their home country. He also loved it; he might not have remembered the previous 30 years, but he remembered his early 20's in Addis Ababa. For him, it was like being there.”

As stated by the co-founder, MemoryWell wants those who are experiencing what she had to not have to reinvent the wheel, by not having to go through the complexities of summing up a loved one’s life story with a 20 page.  The company aims to “create community where none exists… [and] give a voice to the voiceless.”  With these personalized stories, the approach to long term care has the opportunity to change completely.  As mentioned above, these stories utilize a variety of interviews with the loved ones of the Alzheimer's or dementia patient, pictures from their past experiences, as well as some of their favorite pieces of music.

What is Alzheimer's disease and dementia?

Alzheimer’s consists of a disease that is not capable of reversal, and is brain disorder that progressively worsens.  The symptoms associated with the disease will commonly include the decline of memory, the ability to think clearly, as well as the eventual failure to carry out the simplest of tasks.  The disease itself received its namesake after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, whom in 1906 took notice to the alterations in the brain tissue of a woman that had passed away of an unidentified mental illness.  The symptoms he had noticed in the patient included loss of memory, speech problems, as well as unpredictable behavior. 

Dr. Alzheimer had examined her brain following her death and discovered various abnormal clumps (now identified as amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (known today as neurofibrillary, or tau, tangles).  These characteristics identified by Dr. Alzheimer are still considered to this day to be vital aspects of Alzheimer’s disease.  Another key characteristic that had later been identified as a contributing factor include the failure of the brain's ability to make connections between nerve cells, or neurons.

In regards to the the direct impact Alzheimer's has on the brain, scientists and researchers are still continuing their pursuit in unraveling the mysteries still present with Alzheimer’s disease.  It has been proposed that most cases of the brain disorder occur well before noticeable memory loss occurs, with estimates of damage to the brain being present even a decade or more before memory loss symptoms start to show.  Although patients at this time appear to be functioning normally, the brain is undergoing serious alterations, which include abnormal deposits of proteins from amyloid plaques and tau tangles across the brain, with once healthy neurons seeing a decline as these nerve cells die out.

Aside from the physical changes within the brain, the symptoms of Alzheimer's are varied from one patient to the next.  This being said, researchers suggest that Alzheimer's is one of the most common causes for dementia in older adults.  Dementia includes the loss of function within the region of the brain responsible for cognitive functioning, which includes thinking, recounting past information, as well as reasoning.  Another significant symptoms can include the patient’s inability to behave normally, which can ultimately affect the daily life and activities of the patient.  With this being said, it can be very common for patients to have what is known as mixed dementia, which is the combination of two or more conditions, with at least one being dementia.  An example of this would be a patient with both Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.

The future of Alzheimer's care

As it has been discovered up unto this point that Alzheimer's disease is irreversible, the shift in focus has been ultimately aimed at providing patients of the disease with healthy and beneficial long term care.  This process however comes with complications, as family members must make the difficult decision to care for their love one themselves, or place their them in a care home. 

Even with the decision being made to send a patient to a care home cannot be easy, as some locations may not provide a personalized experience to the patient.  This is where MemoryWell has stepped in, showing the potential to flip this process on its head, providing personalized, well-crafted stories for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. The company has the opportunity to better connect the patient’s with their caregivers, a very important bond that should be encouraged at care homes everywhere.