Startup Taps Emotional Benefits of Technology for Seniors

Image of hand pressing on screen digital tablet

Between on-demand services, wearables and other disruptive technology, senior care is set to be revolutionized in the years ahead as tech companies line up to serve the ever-increasing aging population. One startup is taking its own approach by tapping the psychological and emotional benefits that technology bears for seniors.

The History Project, a digital storytelling platform, provides an intuitive outlet to capture personal and family histories in a collaborative, interactive timeline format. Users can bring together memories and artifacts scattered across digital, social and physical worlds for users of all ages to create life narratives through voice recordings, snapshots of meaningful events and video clips. What’s more, it has garnered attention and $2.1 million in funding from the likes of the Associated Press, The New York Times and venture capitalists.

The platform is being rolled out in pilot projects in a handful of senior living communities, including Mary’s Woods, a single-site continuing care retirement community (CCRC) located in Lake Oswego, Oregon, and Carlsbad By The Sea Retirement Community, a beachfront CCRC located in Carlsbad, California and operated by Front Porch, a senior living provider that manages and operates 11 full-service retirement communities primarily in Southern California.

The goal—to explore how reflection and storytelling impact the seniors involved in the programs and assess The History Project’s lasting effects.

“In an age where more and more technology is coming into play in the lives of seniors, a lot of it is very functional, but there’s also something to be said about the psycho-social and emotional side,” Niles Lichtenstein, CEO and Founder of The History Project, tells Senior Housing News. “That’s a lot of what our focus has been—what are those psycho-social benefits of life story reflection and legacy preservation? How does it also create intergenerational conversation and engagement? How do we make technology feel not like distance or alienation but enablement and empowerment?”

Behind The History Project

Lichtenstein’s idea for The History Project stemmed from his own experience in gathering artifacts and memories about his late father. He rediscovered his father’s record collection, began to reach out to old friends and searched the Internet for information, such as where his father was based during the Vietnam War. Once everything had been digitized, Lichtenstein said he realized how tedious the process had been.

“What I was left with at the end of the day was a Dropbox full of clickable assets, and it didn’t really feel like it was the place that I wanted to capture some of these oral histories and stories and artifacts, in a multimedia sense,” he says. “So I just started building one on my own, really just more to solve my own problem. What we found along the way was that a lot of people were feeling similarly.”

From there came the concept of a “living, interactive time capsule of the moments that matter.” In early 2015, Lichtenstein and Ben Yee, his co-founder, brought The History Project to an incubator, where of 300 startups, they came out as one of six. Afterward, they had decided to seek out funding, and by the end of the year, they had raised $2.1 million from major news organizations and venture capitalists.

During this time, Lichtenstein also found that The History Project’s platform was especially of interest to the older adult population and baby boomers looking to compile a narrative of sorts that could later be shared with their kids and grandkids, prompting him to focus more on that subset of the population.

The History Project in Senior Living

Interest among seniors spurred Lichtenstein to bring The History Project to them, setting up workshops within San Francisco senior centers and working at Senior Planet in New York on a project where older adult artists create a history project of their creative lives.





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Several pilots with senior living providers also came about as a result of an Aging 2.0’s #30in30in30 event in September in San Francisco, an initiative to encourage local communities around the world to host pitch events for innovative products and services aimed at improving seniors’ lives.

At Mary’s Woods, the pilot is slated to begin March 24 and will run for five weeks, with The History Project’s so-called history concierges facilitating. The community plans to have no more than 20 residents with some technological background sit down once a week to run through the curriculum, learn how to use The History Project interface and sort through and digitize their memories, knick-knacks and stories. At the end, there will be a celebration, allowing the broader community to see the work completed by participants.

“The thing I like about The History Project is that it doesn’t lead with technology,” Rob May, CTO at Mary’s Woods, tells SHN. “It leads with the story, with their family and their connections. …It’s a very interesting, compelling piece of technology being used for non-technical, non-gadget-based activity.”

Though the pilot has yet to begin at Mary’s Woods and benefits have yet to be seen, it’s clear that The History Project promotes intergenerational connections and allows for the preservation and communication of stories that may otherwise go untold to family members down the line, May says. And though there’s no set plans once the pilot ends, he notes the possibility of a club forming around the concept of The History Project.

“We wouldn’t do it if we couldn’t foresee making it an ongoing thing,” May says. “It can be perceived as a benefit, by people living here and people looking to live in a senior living community. It makes the community richer.”

The sentiment is similar at the Front Porch community in Carlsbad. The Front Porch Center for Innovation and Well-Being is constantly on the lookout for innovative uses of technology to empower seniors as they age, which is why The History Project sparked interest for the organization at the Aging 2.0 event.

Carlsbad By The Sea Retirement Community’s pilot will run for six weeks with no fewer than 10 residents, says Davis Park, the center’s director. Workshops will be conducted on a weekly basis, culminating in an event allowing residents to tell their stories with the community at large, like at Mary’s Woods.

Again, the pilot isn’t underway just yet, but Park believes The History Project’s platform is conducive to reminiscing, sharing personal stories and making human connections, which perhaps can be used as a tool for memory therapy at some point and also proves a form of engagement.

“From a well-being perspective, it’s about engagement and how we can use these sorts of solutions in order to give people that very natural propensity to talk about their personal lives,” Park says. “We think that kind of engagement is a contribution to the overall effort to get people to increase their socialization.”

Even when the pilot is finished, Park foresees seniors continuing to interact with the history projects they create.

“What follows after is that residents continue to sustain, update and maintain their history projects,” he says. “There’s no finite end.”

Written by Kourtney Liepelt

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