About Us: Bernadette and Melanie

For the first few months, Goose Hollow Studios was a mother-daughter team (Bernadette and Melanie, respectively) with a little computer coding experience and a lot of ideas about helping older folks.

We’d noticed that the technology industry wasn’t focused on seniors very much, with the possible exception of medical tech. But what about other areas that might enhance quality of life for seniors?

Our answer: Activities. Activities are stimulating and engaging, and they have the potential to help “exercise” the brain and encourage social interaction. So we started developing activities for iPads, putting our existing tech skills together with something fun. Soon we had not only built several prototypes, but a third member, Miriam, joined the studio, bringing immense passion for helping older folks and experience in implementing art therapy in senior communities.

Believing firmly in participatory design, we took our early prototypes on the road. We watched seniors use our activity prototypes - sometimes smiling, sometimes not. We asked them what they thought - sometimes they said they had fun, sometimes they politely said they didn’t. We learned a lot, and the main thing was that we needed to focus.

We ultimately decided, therefore, to concentrate our efforts on creating activities that enrich the lives of people with dementia. One of the reasons we choose this was because a close family member of the co-founders lived with Alzheimer’s for the last years of her life. One of us (the mother in the mother-daughter team) was her primary caregiver until more intensive memory care became required.

Using the amazing feedback from our first testers and a few experts in dementia care, we went back to the drawing board and built a prototype of a whole new activity system, called Memory Series. This new activity system is designed to stimulate the brain, jog memories, and spark conversations about those memories. We hope the Memory Series will invigorate the user’s mind and strengthen their social engagement, key elements to a great quality of life for folks living with dementia.

We’re currently still developing the Memory Series, but if you’re interested in staying updated on our progress, just fill out the form on our Contact page.

About Us: Miriam

Hi! I’m Miriam. I’m in my mid-40s now, but in my late teens I started getting more involved in the lives of the seniors in my life and involving them more in mine. Their personalities would come out, and I could see the teenage hearts beating in their older bodies. At some point, I realized that they would say yes to just about any activity - they were so glad to be included, and I became determined to really see them and not just let them be shoved off in the corner like old furniture.

A little while after I moved to Portland in 2006, I realized that I really missed being around senior energy, so I started taking gerontology classes at the local community college. I also started volunteering, eventually landing at Rose Villa Senior Living in an art program called Opening Minds through Art (OMA), a program specifically geared towards seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia. I struggle to find the words for how much I like this facility and program because they’re great examples of how we should treat our seniors. The program is run by the most caring and interesting people, and every time I’m with them, the seniors and volunteers, I’m reminded of the best of humanity: art, care, goodwill and laughter. I have never been around so many people who love seniors the same way I do. It’s cool, and it’s inspiring!

Melanie and I met about the first iteration of the apps over drinks at a dark Portland bar in the winter of 2018. She and her mom had come up with a cool idea to make activity apps to engage seniors, and a mutual friend had mentioned that I loved seniors. So, we talked about apps and older folks, and the future and the coldness of profit-driven capitalism, and here we are! I am so grateful that our introduced us because Goose Hollow Studios (GHS) is a wonderful new step in both my professional and personal lives, an opportunity to participate in building a new business model around something I love, while surrounding myself with people who inspire me every day. Working with GHS has added an exciting new dimension to the way I’m engaging with seniors, and I am excited to share this journey with you!

About Us: Jenny

Brought on initially to build the website, I quickly found myself drawn to the mission, design process and co-op ideals of Goose Hollow Studios. Plus, these colleagues aren’t half-bad either. (Seriously, these Goose Hollowers have hearts of gold.) I made it official by formally joining as a member-owner in June 2020.

As someone who also had loved ones who struggled with Alzheimer’s and dementia, I attached personally to the purpose of the app right off the bat. On top of that, it’s inspiring to see the level of love going into this work from the participatory design development approach to the co-op business model. Nothing is done without careful consideration and input from others.

I look forward to being part of Goose Hollow Studios as it evolves and creates new ways to help those experiencing memory issues.

Why Seniors?

Let’s be honest, other than medication management, caregiver scheduling, and safety apps, seniors are an under-served target audience in today’s tech industry.

To counter this trend, we decided to focus on creating fun and engaging apps for seniors, specifically those living with dementia. We know the brain is flexible and using it regularly keeps it strong. Our apps are tools that can help inspire special moments: stimulating the brain with stories to share, memories to be re-lived, and new memories to be made. Goose Hollow Studios is on a mission to give senior-oriented tech the attention they deserve.

Why participatory design?

At a meeting of a senior-focused group here in Portland, during various discussions about innovation and aging well, one phrase stood out:

Things are too often designed for seniors, not with seniors.

This struck a chord, so we made the critical decision to take a “participatory-design” approach. This means that we specifically design all of our activities in collaboration with our users: people living with dementia. And, because of their specific needs, we also work closely with caregivers, as well as memory care professionals and experts.

A collaborative approach may sound like common sense, but we were surprised when we’d heard from one care group that had given perhaps the simplest advice to an app developer: Make the text font bigger so that older folks can read it more easily. In the next version of that app, the font size remained the same small size. It’s ridiculous but illustrative of how much tech developers, who often receive millions of dollars in investment funding like the one had in this story, simply don’t care. How is that even possible, you might be asking yourself, to develop a release-ready paid app (not a prototype) targeted to the senior market and have the text font be so small that folks couldn’t read it. It’s a simple and significant design choice that could have been easily identified in one conversation with a senior app user and then remedied.

We won’t get things perfect the first time or even the second, but we will always be working to make things better. Because we are responding to feedback from actual seniors test playing our activities, every release will be improved for and by seniors with dementia. And to aid us, we also incorporate the feedback from caregivers and experts who are testing and using our apps as well. Our goal is not to fast-track the quickest route to “app unicorn” success, but to build something that makes people living with dementia, both patients and caregivers, feel better and live better.

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