Health / Media / Startups

This DC startup is helping seniors tell their life stories

In doing so, MemoryWell is looking to transform Alzheimer's care.

Jay Newton-Small demos MemoryWell at DC Tech Meetup. (Photo via Twitter)

Jay Newton-Small started MemoryWell as a result of her experience placing her father into senior care after he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 58. During the intake process, she had to fill out a cumbersome 20 page form during the intake process answering questions about medical and banking history.

Newton-Small assumed primary responsibility for her dad after her mother—who helped serve as caregiver for the first 10 years—ended up dying before her husband. Besides feeling overwhelmed, stressed and burnt out from the take process, Newton-Small realized that there was a real pain-point to solve stemming from filling out all of the paperwork.

As the author of Broad Influence, a book on women’s increasing role in national politics, and as a “recovering journalist” writing cover stories for Time Magazine, Newton-Small solved it with storytelling. This gave her the chance to tell her father’s story so that caregivers, staff, and facility management could build empathy by knowing about his background and life before coming into care.

The available stories have grown since then. MemoryWell has grown to a network of professional journalists, who interview seniors and their families. MemoryWell runs through a mobile responsive web platform where families and others can find the stories, as well as photos, music and videos. “It replaces the most pertinent part of the forms that ask about family history in terms of social history. Asking about hobbies and music and things, like favorite things, favorite foods,” said Newton-Small.

“We have a caregiver page where we collect all that information for caregivers. And so they have that handy at their fingertips. And so the caregivers use this narrative to get a background of their life and story.

MemoryWell bootstrapped its first year, then got its initial seed funding from a Kickstarter campaign where Newton-Small raised over $77,000. After becoming a featured winner of the WeWork Creator Awards, the startup brought in $130,000 in funding.

That’s helped allow the startup to scale when it rolled out a pilot program with Brookdale Senior Living, the largest provider of senior care in the U.S. with 1,000 communities across the country. As MemoryWell expands, they plan on bringing on more journalists in their network to write and file the stories and are working with local developer 3event to build an interactive content management systems so they’re not doing it by hand anymore.

The startup is now looking to raise funds with its eye on an expanding market, as value-based care became the law in 2017, rewarding health providers incentive payments based on the quality of their service to patients using Medicare.

Newton-Small began the venture along with Andrew Fribush when both were part of Halycon Incubator Fellows Cohort 6 in 2017. The company is bringing on Faran Negarestan as Director of Engineering this month. Negarestan originally served as the CTO of Reciprocare, founded by Dr. Charlene Brown when they were both part of Cohort 4.

Nearly 15.7 million adult family caregivers help family members with Alzheimer’s or dementia, with the economic value of the care is reportedly around $218 billion, according to the Alzheimer’s Association in 2015.

At the core, MemoryWell is about communicating seniors’ backgrounds in a way that restores dignity to those who are aging, and who may not have the full capabilities of telling their own stories.

Newton-Small see the concept as fundamentally about helping people relate to each other.

“It’s not the end of a story, it’s the beginning of a story,” she says.


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