A conversation in their local pub led good friends Bruce Elliott and Peter Quayle to design a memory game app that is now attracting worldwide attention.
Bruce says: “It was a few years ago in the Crosby and we were sitting at a table, talking about our mums. Peter’s mother is 90 years old and has vascular dementia. She lives here on the Isle of Man, my mother is 86 and is back in Canada.
“We were talking about what they had in common and of course it was a love of old family photos.
“I have experience in gaming and I thought, ‘I wonder if we can turn these photos into games? and Peter said, “We actually turn memories into games,” and that was the birth of Memory Lane Games.
The app they created, which is available for free, uses old photos to trigger positive memories. It is designed to be played by dementia patients with a parent, friend or caregiver.
For example, there are games featuring photo questions from 120 cities and towns across the UK. Wherever you grew up, chances are there will be questions around photos of familiar sights, events, and landmarks you know.
I tested my knowledge of Isle of Man questions and it’s quite addictive to play. Then Bruce and I tried a game about cats, which we both got wrong, and just naturally found ourselves talking about it and laughing about it. This, as Bruce explains, is exactly the point of the game.
He says: “The real secret is that it also sparks some wonderful conversations.
“You think, ‘Ah, I know that,’ and you feel so positive because you have the answer, and what it does is get you talking, so it reduces social isolation.
“So it’s not about scoring and it’s not really about games. What games do is give us the opportunity to start a conversation. For people with dementia , there is sometimes a loop: “I want to go home, where is my husband, why am I here, I want to go home, where is my husband…” This type of distraction tool can break this loop because you find a Memory,’
“And one of the things we do that is unique is that we aim to benefit both people with dementia and their carers, equally.”
Each question has a choice of four answers. If you get it wrong the first time, that wrong answer just disappears, leaving three answers to choose from, so you can keep choosing an answer until you get it right.
“It’s frustration-free: at the end he says, ‘Well done, that’s the right answer’, so it allows people to carry on stress-free,” says Bruce.
He credits Tom Coldwell, the company’s chief technology officer and shareholder, with making the app so user-friendly.
He says, “Tom designed the app and its simplicity, and made it one of the most incredibly effective technology platforms out there.
Tom explains that he had his grandmother in mind when he was working there. He says: ‘My grandma is in Yorkshire, she’s 92 now and that really spoke to me as I wish I could send her family photos and pictures of her and my grandfather going dancing together. I thought it was really a good thing to be part of it.
They are now starting to add games based on photos from other parts of the world. In April, they launched their app in the Philippines.
Bruce says, “We partnered with the Philippine Alzheimer’s Association and localized content with a Filipino team that made games about Filipino street food and beaches and 80 different Filipino towns and villages.
“We’ve had 10,000 downloads there and they’re now prescribing our app – the exact same free app that’s in the app stores here – for cognitive exercises for stroke and dementia patients by their neurologists and general practitioners and it’s wonderful.
“We are launching in Germany soon and we are launching in India.
“What’s amazing is that it’s the same app, the same concept, everywhere. We’re just adding more games in this simple format, but what we’re starting to see is that care companies health professionals are asking us, “Can this work in telemedicine?” and now we are looking at how to deploy reminiscence activities via videoconferencing.
“We are starting to make very good progress with this and that means it can be delivered all over the world very cheaply.
“We recently had a wonderful recognition: KPMG named us their top technology innovator in the North West of the UK in 2021 and they are starting to work with us to help us create games for our application, so that some of their employees create games in some of the towns and cities in which they grew up.
At the moment the app is still free, but Bruce and the team plan to start making money with a new custom version.
Bruce says, “It’s our passion to be able to provide free, localized reminiscence activities for every country in the world.
“But we are a business and we know that sustainable businesses can have the most impact. So next month we’ll be rolling out personalization: Families will be able to upgrade their own family photos in their quizzes, with questions like, “It’s that mom standing next to Uncle Jim?, “Whose dog was that?”, all those simple things that trigger positive, wonderful memories.
“We’ll be offering this on a monthly subscription at £2.99 per month. So while all of our thousands of games are still available for free, if you want you can customize them.”
In order to give themselves the initial grace period while they developed the games, they raised nearly £1m from investors and they are receiving a grant from the DfE.
Bruce says: “Our investors are primarily family offices who love our purpose and love our business, so they know that as we scale this business will be profitable.
“At the moment we are still developing all the infrastructure and platforms, but these can run almost at no cost once they are built.”
“Our investors are patient: they see what we’re doing and they’re excited as we move into personalization revenue and then our business-to-business revenue with care homes and home care.”
The first step in this area is made in partnership with Hospice Isle of Man.
Hospice CEO Anne Mills explains: “I am extremely pleased that here at Hospice, through our Scholl University Centre, we are conducting a new pilot research study which will investigate the use of a memory games.
“The study hopes to determine whether the use of a new personalized game app, using personalized content for the person with dementia, compared to a standard app, could help improve the well-being of the person with dementia. dementia and their caregiver.
“We are looking for 30 volunteers aged 65 or over with a diagnosis of mild or moderate dementia. We will ask participants to use the Memory Lane Games app which offers simple, dementia-friendly memory activities. We are happy to say that the study has been approved by the Isle of Man Research Ethics Committee (IOMREC) and very kindly funded by Memory Lane Games.
“Our strategy at Hospice is to reach more people who need our support sooner, so our Scholl University research team is taking this opportunity to examine whether digital health technology can have an impact. We are very proud that Memory Lane Games was developed right here on the island. Scholl’s university research team is now able to recruit volunteers who can provide feedback on the app and bring us closer to improving the quality of life for people with dementia.
l If you are interested in participating, please contact Rachel Convery Clinical Research Nurse, Scholl Academic Center at 647424 or [email protected]