Saving Memories

Narses Barona sat at a dining room table, gently answering questions about himself, his family, his life.

“What are you proud of?” asked Chase Brouillette, 15, pen ready to take down Barona’s answers.

“I’m proud of being happy,” answered the elderly gentleman.

The interview was one of 30 that Brouillette and other teenage volunteers did this summer with clients of Charlie’s Place, a day program of Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area for those with early- to mild-stage dementia.

After each interview Brouillette and his helpers typed into a computer what they learned — where and when a person was born and information about their families, their work, hobbies, travels and more.

The result is a virtual scrapbook, an easy-to-access visual presentation for the clients of Charlie’s Place.

Onscreen, the program opens with a comforting and welcoming vision of a scrapbook named “My Story, My Way,” sitting on a table warmly lit by a lamp. Then the virtual book opens for the reader.

For Brouillette, it’s a project he hopes will make him an Eagle Scout.

For the staff of Charlie’s Place, it’s helped fully realize the potential of a new technology system they received last year through a grant from the Pennington Foundation.

And for those who come to Charlie’s Place, it’s a way to revisit their memories.

“It comforts them,” said Dana Territo, director of services. “It’s their reminiscing.”

Charlie’s Place is the first day center in the state to have the “It’s Never Too Late” computer program that provides music therapy, entertainment and activities to stimulate the mind and practice hand-eye coordination. The system consists of a stationary computer, a mobile computer that can be wheeled from room to room and four individual tablets clients can hold in their hands. The touch-screen program allows clients to click on easy-to-see icons to get to other offerings.

The “Health and Wellness” icon, for example, has a link to “Laughter,” with a video of a baby doing just that. Under the “Sensory” icon, clients can find “Lagoon,” an image of water with minnows swimming in it. Run your finger across the screen and the water ripples. Hold your finger on the screen and the minnows gather to “nibble.”

“It’s how (the clients) got used to touching the screen,” said Ed Picard, respite center coordinator.

Staffers had not been able to implement the scrapbook portion of the program, however, until Brouillette and his fellow Scouts stepped in.

Brouillette says he had heard about the effect that dementia has on patients and their families and had also heard about the local Alzheimer’s Services.

“I wanted to help any way I could,” says Brouillette.

From questions provided by the computer program, he chose about 20 for the client interviews, looking for those “most likely to help the clients, to spark their memory.”

The Scouts wrapped up the interviews in mid-July, but Brouillette had begun preparing a few months earlier by writing to the families of clients, asking for their input and for any photos they’d like to include in the electronic scrapbooks. Family members can also log into the program from home and add photos.

Assisting Brouillette with the interviews and computer work were his fellow Troop 888 Scouts Andrew Chenevert, 16; Taylor Fontenot, 14, and Haden Dalton, 14, and Girl Scout Troop 10488 members Camryn Brouillette and Caroline Chenevert, both 13 and sisters of Chase and Andrew, respectively, and Girl Scouts Camille Webre and Madison Hasenkampf, both 14.