The residents of the LHAS Arbor Unit at Weinberg Village are dancing in the streets.
They’re banging away on a full set of drums.
And they’re biking through the Swiss Alps.
Not bad for a unit for seniors struggling with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
OK, these residents aren’t actually dancing, drumming and biking, but they are using an adapted computer hardware/software system to simulate these activities, and the benefits are very real.
The system is called “It’s Never 2 Late” (iN2L), the product of a Colorado-based technology developer, and the Jewish Association Aging, with the help of local foundations, has purchased the system for use at Weinberg Village and the Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
So far, two units are in place, but JAA hopes to purchase more.
“We would like to purchase additional units,” said Beverly Brinn, JAA
director of development and community engagement. “We need them.”
The system is designed to make the Internet accessible to people with memory impairment or who have no computer knowledge at all.
Users can trigger applications or open photo or music files merely by touching the screen with their hands or a pointer — even if the user is confined to bed.
It has become a valuable therapeutic tool, according to Brinn.
“It has applications for cognitive therapy; it improves cognition and therapy,” she said. “And the software has physical therapy applications because people who interact with the system have the potential for physical movement whether it’s raising or lowering their arms [or] moving their hands.”
JAA seniors use iN2L in both individual and group settings.
Each user has his or her own file — JAA officials sometimes refer to them as “books” — called MyStory. It contains digital items as diverse as favorite songs and family photos.
The books also include applications that play games, show movies, offer travelogue and enable users to take virtual journeys and play virtual musical instruments.
Each book contains activity programs that most interest the user.
“It just enhances the quality of life for all our residents,” Brinn said.
Activities Associate Tara Bailey, who builds the MyStory books, begins by asking each resident a battery of personal questions about their lives, likes and dislikes.
Based on those answers she designs a book that is meaningful to the user.
“I interview them and make it into a story,” Bailey said.
Once the books are built, they’re still not completed. Children and grandchildren of each resident can access the book from anywhere in the world, uploading new family photos and messages.
As a therapist, Bailey said these ever-growing MyStory books help her understand the residents she works with.
“This system actually gives us a greater opportunity to interact with their families,” she said, “and I’m grateful for that.”
Additionally, iN2L also can be used for group activities. Programs can be played on flat screen TVs, enabling residents to read front pages of newspapers from anywhere in the world. They can visit exotic places online (like biking through the Alps) and — a favorite activity of the groups — tune in to a webcam at a Washington, D.C., pet shop to watch the puppies.
They can even make their own programs. The Arbors residents are actually recording their own soap opera starring everyone on the floor.
They can also do email and video chat, play games and access spiritual content, to name just a few activities.
Jack York, founder and president of iN2L, said he got the idea for the system when, while working in the Silicon Valley, his company donated computers to senior facilities around southern California.
“It literally just changed my life … to see how meaningful it was for people to stay connected in a pretty tough situation where they were isolated and lonely.”
However, “it was clear that conventional computers would be way too difficult for most people [in a nursing home setting] to use,” he said. “That was 1998. In 1999 we started the company and beat our heads against the wall for 10 years. But in the past couple years it’s just resonated.”
He called the iN2L “an iPad on steroids,” but said a conventional tablet device wouldn’t work in a nursing home setting.
“We spent years putting together different types content that’s vetted, that’s safe, that’s easy to use but not degrading. Trying to find all that stuff through a traditional computer would take hundreds of hours and who knows where you would wind up.”
This past spring, when Brinn and JAA President and CEO Debbie Winn-Horvitz were at a convention of the Association of Aging Services in Los Angeles, they saw a demonstration on iN2L.
“We were just blown away by it,” Brinn said. “We had a very generous donor — the Elinoff family — and she really gave us the motivation and encouragement to try something different.”
She was referring to Yetta Elinoff, trustee of the Hyman Family, who paid the cost for one unit in July provided to the Arbor Unit. A second unit, paid for by the Jack and Lovell Olender Foundation, serves residents at Charles Morris.
Each unit costs $13,000, hardware and software included. JAA also purchased a software maintenance package, which enables the agencies to upgrade the software.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)