A ground-breaking app developed in Liverpool to help people with dementia recall memories through the use of museum artefacts has launched in Singapore following its success in the UK and US.

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National Museums Liverpool (NML) has teamed up with the National Heritage Board (NHB) and the British Council in Singapore to develop a bespoke version of My House of Memories, part of NML’s flagship social inclusion programme House of Memories.

Based on the power of objects to elicit deeply held memories, the free app allows people to explore everyday objects from the 1920s to 1980s. Objects like cinema tickets, a Singer sewing machine and a 10-shilling note, brought to life with music and film, can help those living with dementia draw on memories to create personal connections with family, friends and caregivers. Users can save objects to their own memory trees, memory boxes or memory timelines to share with family and friends.

Originally launched in the UK six years ago, the app has already been successfully rolled out in the US, where NML teamed up with the Minnesota Historical Society. The US version was curated by people living with dementia and their caregivers, including African-Americans who selected items that connect to the black community including civil rights images and audio.

The Singapore version includes a curated selection of 100 objects from Singapore’s National Collection and 11 additional objects from the Alzheimer’s Disease Assocation, brought to life through multimedia features and more than 350 images. To enhance usability, they are grouped into six key themes: Festivals and Special Occasions, Lifestyle, Food and Drinks, Household Items, Jobs and Growing Up. Objects include a vintage bicycle, which was a common mode of transport in early Singapore; the granite mortar and pestle set – a household essential used in the preparation of herbs and spices for cooking; and Sinalco – a well-loved brand of soft drink in the 1960s.

The app will be complemented by House of Memories museum-led dementia awareness training delivered by NML in partnership with NHB and the Agency for Integrated Care in 2021 for health and social care professionals, families, and care partners of people with dementia. 10 sessions will be organised for up to 400 health and social care professionals and caregivers, exploring how to use the app, introducing dementia based on real-life stories and how stimulating and sharing memories about a person’s life history is important to support a person living with dementia and their families.  

Carol Rogers MBE, Director of House of Memories, said: “Covid-19 is changing how healthcare is accessed and delivered, as well as accelerating the use of ‘silver technology’, as more older people find themselves isolated from friends and family. As cultural institutions around the world have had to adapt to the challenges of a global crisis, My House of Memories has continued to serve those with dementia unable to visit our museums in person, providing a source of great comfort during what is a very confusing time.

“As custodians of the community memory, we are delighted to share our expert knowledge with our partners in Singapore to enable even more people to harness the power of museum resources to help unlock memories, improve communication and enrich the lives of those living with dementia.”

Minister of Innovation at the Department of Health and Social Care Lord Bethell added: “Technology can be a huge force for good and this unprecedented public health emergency has shown how vital it is that we continue to harness its full potential in order to adapt and transform healthcare services. This is a brilliant example of homegrown innovation and I’m sure the app will make a real difference to many older people who may be struggling with the isolation and uncertainty the coronavirus pandemic has caused.”

My House of Memories user Tommy Dunne, who lives with dementia, is a founder member of the Liverpool Service User Reference Forum (SURF), a group of people who represent the views of people living with dementia, their carers and families across Liverpool.

He said: “It’s a great conversation stater. Not many people know how to start a conversation with people with dementia. The app is a godsend because it allows people to talk to us about things we know.

“It’s brought back what’s been lost. It helps people feel useful. There’s nothing better than me being able to educate my granddaughter. It makes me feel part of the family again, part of society again.

“People that are housebound or people in care homes can’t get to the museums but the app brings the museums into your home. It becomes part of your family. By reaffirming memories, it helps to push back the onset of dementia. It turns us into time travellers.

“It’s made such a difference to my life and such a difference to my family’s life.”

Today, there are 28,000 people aged 60 years and above living with dementia in Singapore. By 2030, it is estimated this figure will rise to 80,000.

Dr Sarah Meisch Lionetto, Director of Arts and Creative Industries, British Council Singapore, said: “The launch of the app has gained an additional level of importance in light of Covid-19 in terms of being a unique digital resource for the elderly, thereby helping the most vulnerable segment of the community during the pandemic.

“By coinciding with World Alzheimer’s Month and the upcoming International Day of Older Persons, we hope the app launch will contribute to raising awareness of the challenges faced by seniors with dementia and the innovative solutions offered to them and their caregivers by the culture and heritage sector.

“The House of Memories programme and our MoU affirm the shared commitment between Singapore and the UK to enhancing well-being and inclusivity in the arts and culture. It similarly builds on the British Council Singapore’s extensive work in Arts and Disability and Arts and Ageing which aims to contribute to building a more inclusive society.”

Alvin Tan, Deputy Chief Executive (Policy & Community) of National Heritage Board (NHB), Singapore, added: “Through the My House of Memories Singapore app, we hope to create and place a valuable resource kit and a personal museum into the hands of persons living with dementia and their caregivers, and in doing so, to leverage on our heritage resources as ‘memory triggers’ and ‘conversation starters’ for persons living with dementia so that they can continue to age gracefully and meaningfully.

To date, My House of Memories has had more than 33,000 downloads, with over 21,000 users who have taken part in 69,814 activity sessions. Since it was launched in 2014, the app has gone from strength to strength. Working with partners such as the Highland Museums Forum, Museums Galleries Scotland, the Museum of London and Unilever, NML has adapted the content for people with different interests and in different geographical areas.

The app will be launched in English before being rolled out into Singapore’s official languages, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil.

The My House of Memories app can be downloaded for free via the App Store and Google Play.