OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Bringing families closer to older relatives during Covid-19 through family history sharing platform

Our professionally told life stories and free interactive digital timelines engage older adults and connect them to relatives and friends

Photo of Michael Chandler
0 1

Written by

MemoryWell offers a digital life storytelling platform, designed to integrate biographical information into care settings through easy-to-access tools for paid caregivers.

Currently, only a fraction of home care, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities gather life histories, and the solutions they create or purchase are mostly hand-written questionnaires. MemoryWell integrates biographical information into care settings in a new way—offering a digital life storytelling platform that can easily be accessed and updated to promote person-centered care, which is increasingly the gold standard of care. 

The platform also features a companion tool designed to promote family engagement. MemoryWell invites family members and friends to add to a loved one's life story by building out a timeline with favorite music, movies, videos, photos and memories from different eras. Paid care staff are also invited to post photos and updates about daily life that are then shared with family members.  

Never has this been more important as the COVID-19 epidemic restricts families’ abilities to visit their loved ones. Not only can family members no longer tell staff about their loved ones when they visit, but that social interaction from family members is now dramatically reduced with the restriction of non-essential visitors. That's why MemoryWell has begun offering its timelines for families to use for free during this period of social distancing. Families separated from a loved one in long-term care or at home can start a timeline and invite relatives and paid caregivers to contribute photos and memories. 

MemoryWell sends out weekly "MemoryTime" engagement prompts, such as "Where were you during the moon landing?" These timelines create opportunities for family members to interview their loved ones and learn more about their lives. For the older adults, it's a chance to connect and look back often on happier times. 

We are also offering discounts on our professionally told life stories. In our work with hundreds of older adults and their families, we have found a short story has a huge impact. Our stories are relatively brief—800 words or less—so as to be read quickly by front-line staff. The key to MemoryWell’s consistent, high quality is a network of more than 700 professional freelance writers who are trained in MemoryWell’s interview techniques and story format. The interviews are conducted by phone or video chat, and customers routinely report that they enjoy the opportunity to engage in life review with a skilled, compassionate interviewer. Stories are written, edited and shared with families and paid caregivers on a password-protected platform within a week. Our stories become tools for improving care as well as keepsakes that families can pass down for generations.

An additional benefit is that our stories are keyword coded, and we are able to gather information that is useful to understanding social determinants of health. Health care organizations are starting to use social determinants such as housing, marital status or financial security, to understand health trends and to provide context for personalized solutions when there is a medical problem. But it’s often difficult to collect such information. Major healthcare organizations including Kaiser Permanente and UnitedHealth Group are considering MemoryWell as a solution for collecting biographical information that could be drawn upon as part of their health records. In the future we think this information could also be helpful in understanding how coronavirus impacts older adults differently, based on social determinants, and how treatments could also be customized.  

What is the need are you focusing on?

Older adults in long-term care communities are among the most vulnerable to contracting and dying from Covid-19. In the United States, one-fifth of virus deaths are linked to care facilities. This has led to shutdowns, cutting off vulnerable older adults from outside visitors and increasing the social isolation of an already isolated population. Over-taxed care workers have little time to socialize or provide emotional support. And social opportunities within care settings are being restricted as many residents are confined to their rooms to limit the risk of infection. 

Family members on the outside are worried and looking for new ways to connect with their loved ones meaningfully. Our interactive life story approach gives families a way to connect and older adults an opportunity to look back at different and more positive times in their lives.

Which type of submission are you sharing?

  • Sharing an actual pivot your organization has already made

Describe the business pivot or adaptation in 3-4 sentences.

We are leaning into something we knew was a strength: connecting far-flung families across generations by sharing in their family history. We are offering our digital life story timelines at no cost to families and senior care communities right now, so they can begin sharing photos and updates from an older adult's life from the past and present as they build out their life story timeline. We saw a 400 percent increase in new timeline creations in the first six weeks since the pandemic closed skilled nursing and assisted living facilities to visitors, and a significant increase in timeline posts for already-created timelines.

Do you plan to implement this solution?

  • Yes

Describe the impact that this solution will create in the world.

When we write for TIME Magazine or the Washington Post it’s about the most powerful people in the world for an audience of millions. When we write for MemoryWell, we’re writing about the other 99%, in this case seniors. The audience may only be 20 people but the impact is more profound. As families are physically separated from our oldest and most vulnerable generation, collecting their untold stories is a powerful way to engage and honor them. With 700 writers in our network, we have told more than 500 stories already in more than 40 long-term care communities in 19 states. We are prepared to scale quickly and tell stories across the country helping the more than 1.3 million seniors living in skilled nursing facilities and 800,000 in assisted living communities, as well as the millions of seniors sequestered at home.

What is the name of your business or organization?


What does your business/company do? Whose needs does your business/company address? Who do you serve?

MemoryWell is a digital platform for life storytelling. Our network of 700 professional writers works with families, senior communities and health providers to replace burdensome intake questionnaires with brief, intimate stories. MemoryWell's portraits enable staff to quickly get to know residents, build empathy and are poignant keepsakes for families. Currently, only a fraction of home care, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities gather life histories via rarely accessed questionnaires. MemoryWell integrates biographical information into care settings in a new way—offering a digital storytelling platform that can easily be accessed and updated to promote person-centered care.

What is your profession?


Where are you located (country)?

United States

Where are you located (region)?

  • North America

What industry is your business/company in?

  • Healthcare/Medical
  • Journalism
  • Senior care

How many people does your business/company employ?

  • 0-10

How old is your business/company?

  • 2-5 years old

Which classification describes your organization/business?

  • Social Enterprise

What kind of stakeholders and partnerships are needed to pursue this solution?

  • Funding- Grants
  • Funding- Investment
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Private Sector
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Government
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Grassroots/Community Groups

Do you need help building partnerships and finding partners?

  • Yes

If Yes to the above, please share 1-2 sentences describing the specific help you desire.

We have raised a little over $1 million since 2016 from angel investors and family and friends and we have about 4 months of runway. We are looking for investors and for senior communities to work with. We are also applying for federal research grants to study the outcomes of life storytelling in senior care settings, and government funds to reimburse skilled nursing facilities that partner with us.

What do you think are the main barriers to implementing this solution?

As senior living communities remain locked down, our greatest challenge includes getting the attention of care providers, who are still focused on the immediately pressing issue of safety. We anticipate more resources will be dedicated to social isolation in the coming weeks and months. Another challenge historically has been illustrating the benefits of using writers versus staff, families or volunteers to gather life stories. Over the last 2.5 years, we’ve brought down our costs by 70%, and we have worked to show providers that they are a worthy investment that will yield rich dividends in care as well as through sales, marketing, and data analytics.

If you are currently working on a pivot, what have you learned so far?

Front-line care workers are busy professionals working in high-pressure, high-turnover jobs. The coronavirus pandemic has brought more stress than ever. But they also feel an urgency to help families stay connected. We are working to make the platform easier for paid care staff to use to share moments from the daily lives of their residents on digital timelines and to invite families to participate and share in the timelines as well. For example, one community is working with us to create timelines for each of its 120 residents to enable this exchange and communication.

Are you aware of any open source efforts, hackathons or other collaborative efforts related to your solution? Are you participating in these efforts?


Website URL
View more

Team (2)

Jay's profile
Jay Newton-Small

Role added on team:

"Solo founder and CEO Jay Newton-Small was previously Washington correspondent for TIME Magazine, where she remains a contributor. MemoryWell grew out of her experience caregiving for her father, who had Alzheimer's. When she moved him into a senior community, she was asked to fill out a long questionnaire about his life. This made no sense to her. Instead she wrote his story and it transformed his care."

Michael's profile


Join the conversation: