Please enjoy this guest blog from Jay Newton-Small with MemoryWell.

My father was a brilliant man. He had a 40-year career as a diplomat with the United Nations, working on five continents. But in the last few years of his life, he wouldn’t have been able to tell you that: his Alzheimer’s first gave him aphasia—where his words were scrambled—before it robbed him of the ability to speak altogether.

A few years ago, when I moved him into a community, I was asked to fill out a 20-page questionnaire about his life. I know this was to help his caregivers understand him and better relate to him. But I was a professional writer with TIME Magazine and I challenge anyone to answer some of those questions well, like: Describe your parents’ 50+ year marriage in four lines. And I had little confidence that the constantly churning and overworked staff at that particular community would be able to read and remember 20 pages of hand-written data points for the more than 60 residents in their care. Instead, I wrote down his story and it transformed his life.

Two of his caregivers were Ethiopian and they’d had no idea that he’d lived in Ethiopia for four years early on in his career with the United Nations. They became his champions, sitting for hours asking him about what it was like to work with Emperor Haile Selassie, and what the empress had been like. Other families, seeing his story, asked for their loved ones’ stories and MemoryWell was born.

MemoryWell’s network of nearly 700 professional writers works with families, senior living communities and home care providers to replace burdensome intake questionnaires with brief, intimate stories. Our portraits enable staff to quickly get to know residents, build empathy and are poignant keepsakes for families. The stories we create are available on our digital platform for families to share and add to, and they can also be printed out to make for easy offline use.

Our stories also make for amazing sales and marketing differentiators. More than 81% of the families we’ve worked with feel better about their loved ones’ care knowing that staff knows their stories. And we work with local newspapers, magazines and media stations to help communities get to know the amazing seniors in their midst, often running the stories for Grandparents Day or Veterans Day.

Biography can inform care across the spectrum. Our writers have checklists and collect predictable, and mineable, data sets. MemoryWell’s data dashboard allows staff to easily plan personalized activities and meals: golf for the 10 people who love golf, Sloppy Joe’s—a favorite dish—for a special birthday lunch in honor of a resident, a Gone With the Wind night for the 12 residents who absolutely loved that movie.

Our story has been featured in the Washington Post, CBS Evening News and on NPR, and we are telling new stories every single day.

Biography can inform care across the spectrum. Our writers have checklists and collect predictable, and mineable, data sets. That data can be used in a variety of ways to help put the heart in the tin man of care, of the person in person-centered care.

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