Maya de Forest hopes to improve the hearts and minds of those living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
On the heels of Alzheimer Awareness Month, the St. Vital-based artist and designer has launched Defoz Photo Book Design — a small local business specializing in customized, photo-based memory books for dementia sufferers, which are designed to empower the individual, provide pleasure and connect families, de Forest said.
The idea for the business was born after de Forest — who has also played violin with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra — saw the impact of a memory book she made for her father, Claude, a former professor of architecture at the University of Manitoba, who is living with Alzheimer’s disease in a personal care home in Winnipeg.
"Every time my dad opens his memory book, it’s as if he’s seeing it and enjoying it for the first time. It always gives us something to talk about," de Forest said, noting her dad has personalized his copy of the book by circling and underlining numerous words and pictures.
The Dakota Collegiate alumnus’ memory book is a collection of photographs and archival material with simple text tailored to capture the life history of an individual living with mild or moderate forms of dementia. It’s designed to address practical behaviours such as disorientation and repetitive questioning.
"It’s a storybook about someone’s life — a therapeutic biography — and it’s a great tool for the questions dad keeps asking," de Forest said, noting her father can still read. "For me, the most important thing is the things he asks about mom."
Claude’s wife, Yoshiko, who previously suffered a stroke, now lives in Maya’s care.
"And it’s more than a life history, it’s a tool for both the person living with dementia and their caregivers, so it’s pretty multifunctional," she said.
The memory books are based on the research of Michelle S. Bourgeois, and her clinical studies on memory aids used on adults with dementia. Using Bourgeois as a springboard, de Forest also combines her interests in "art, social initiatives and problem solving."
"Everyone with dementia is different and this is a way to customize someone’s memory book and incorporate their life history," de Forest said.
She said the prototype hardcover books are 60 pages — but she will consider producing a half-sized softcover version — and the research process includes an "involved questionnaire."
For more information, visit www.defoz.com.