Seeking memories to support people with dementia
The current exhibit of photographs by Ansel Adams and Leonard Frank at the Japanese Canadian National Museum raises intriguing questions. The juxtaposition of those two sets of images is a powerful statement about how the same type of event can be represented so differently, depending on what perspective one is taking. This is particularly relevant for me right now, because I am one of a group of researchers who has been looking for historical photographs to include in a computer software program that is designed to support reminiscence-based conversations for people with dementia who grew up in BC.
A bit of background here: in my work as a researcher and, before that, as a speech-language pathologist working with people with dementia and their families, I learned how difficult it can be to keep conversations going with someone with dementia. It can be a major challenge for families, but it is even more difficult for those less familiar with the person with dementia, including, for instance, those who work with that person in day programs or long-term care facilities. Far too often, the consequence of conversational difficulty is that people with dementia become even more socially isolated from others in their community.
In Dundee, Scotland, a team of researchers developed a computer software program called CIRCA (Computer Interactive Reminiscence Conversation Aid) to support conversations between people with dementia and those who care for them. The program incorporates different media including photos, music, and video clips, primarily from the 1940s and 1950s, that are familiar to people who grew up in the Dundee area. The program is very easy to use, with touchscreen technology so that either conversation partner, even someone with dementia, can just touch the screen to choose the media that appears. The Dundee researchers learned that the program is very engaging, both for people with dementia and for their conversation partners, prompting long-term memories and occasional stories from people with dementia in ways that other types of reminiscence-based activities do not.
We are a team of researchers in BC who are customizing the CIRCA program so that it can be used with BC seniors with dementia. The program that we build as CIRCA-BC will, we hope, support people with dementia by helping those who care for them to involve them in conversations. But we hope it will do more than that. We hope that it will also help to keep people with dementia as part of their community longer, by creating opportunities for them to talk about their part in the shared history that defines that community. However, for CIRCA-BC to highlight that shared history well, it needs to capture the regional and cultural diversity of people living in the province, particularly during the1940s and the 1950s. In particular, it should represent that diversity through the images and voices of different communities themselves, and so we are looking for guidance from seniors from these different communities about which memories, which images, which stories, we should include.
This brings me back to the point about the Leonard Frank-Ansel Adams exhibit. I found myself asking as I explored these photographs: how, if at all, should the BC internment of Japanese-Canadians be represented in the CIRCA-BC program? This is just one of many questions for which community input is so important. Therefore, we are inviting seniors from the Japanese-Canadian community who are long-time residents of BC to participate in our project to create CIRCA-BC. We will be holding an information session at the National Nikkei Museum & Heritage Centre on Wednesday March 17 at 2pm. Please come if you are interested in learning more about the project.
School of Audiology & Speech Sciences
University of British Columbia