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BURRISS: Positive photo memories can help dementia patients

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I don’t know how much time, ink and electrons have been spent talking about government and private businesses that sift through our e-mail and computers, gathering data, analyzing it and then drawing conclusions about our behaviors, including our likes and dislikes.

But the other day I read about a new service that does those very things, and may help people in the process.

It seems that a charity in England, Memory Box Network, had developed a kind of digital shoebox that can be filled with memories and help people suffering from dementia.

The idea is that family and friends can upload content that can be sifted through either by the patient or by visitors. Initial research shows the process can increase cognitive functions, improve engagement and defeat feelings of isolation that too often plague individuals afflicted with this disease.

Psychologists have found that people who suffer from dementia often have more positive feelings about everyday events and places, rather than specific events. So the program can learn the users’ preferences, likes and dislikes, bringing up positive material more often, while at the same time bringing up less positive material less often.

In one case, for a 97-year-old dementia sufferer, photos of an oft-used bus stop evoked more memories, and discussion with visitors, than did photographs from a sister’s wedding.

So rather than a friend or relative saying, “Here’s what I think grandpa will like,” the system tailors itself to the user, so photographs of similar themes, times or locations can be uploaded by the caregivers.

We know that younger children often have a hard time understanding what is happening to grandma or grandpa, but other research on the system has shown that young children are better able to connect with their elderly relatives as they share photographs from childhood.

If you’d like to get a taste of how effective this system can be, just get out some old photographs you haven’t looked at in a while, and see what kind of memories they bring back.

The service, which is based in England, is called Ourbigbox.com, and is available for free.

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dementia, larry burriss, memories, patients, photo
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