The Memo Story

One afternoon, in the days before we used ATM’s for banking, I was standing in line in the lobby of my credit union, waiting to cash a check or withdraw money. They had installed a new electronic sign that kept repeating some message like, 'Inquire about our new auto loans – now at 5%!'

The message crawled across the sign, right to left, over and over. I was annoyed by the constant repetition - but I couldn’t stop myself from reading it.

Then I thought, I wish I had a sign like that in my mother’s apartment!

Mom’s Alzheimers had progressed to the point where she never knew what day it was or what she was supposed to be doing. She was physically healthy and enjoyed going almost every place and doing almost everything. But the memory impairment made it impossible for her live alone. After Dad died, she moved to an assisted living facility.

She was still determined to be independent. She had a lot of strategies for figuring out what day it was. First, she crossed days off the calendar. But later when she looked at the calendar and saw the 17th crossed off, she wouldn’t know if she had crossed it off earlier today, yesterday, or the day before. So she would ask someone and write in on it note. But five minutes later she couldn’t tell if she had written the note just now, hours earlier, or days earlier. By the end of the week I would find notes strewn around her apartment: “Today is Wednesday, March 14th,” “This is Monday, March 12th,” “Thursday the 15th.” She still had no way of knowing which date was today.

For a while she would walk down to the lobby and look at the newspaper. It always had today’s date on it. By the time she got back to her apartment, though, she forgot. So she started the buying the newspaper. By the end of the week there might be several papers from each of several days – and she still didn’t know what day it was.

I looked for a watch for her that would display the day as well as the time, but the only ones I found had type too small for her to read. I looked for wall clocks with the day, date, and time, but couldn’t find one.

When I saw that sign in the credit union, I thought how great it would be if it displayed the day and date on Mom’s wall and she always knew what day it was. I imagined typing messages on it from my home on some kind of teletype machine. That would make it possible for her to follow a calendar and know what was going on that day. I thought of many messages I would put on the moving sign. But the technology to make that happen wasn’t available then, or at least I didn’t know about it.

Over the years, I’ve sympathized with many friends and family members who were taking care of a parent with short-term memory loss, and several times I thought about how useful that sign would be. Finally, in the summer of 2010, I had a gap between work assignments and some time on my hands. I began to investigate what kind of technology could make the idea of that sign a reality.

In today’s digital environment, the sign is now very possible, of course.  I don’t want to make it sound simple. It seemed simple to me when I first took the idea to our software developer and designer in Lansing, Michigan. As the weeks and months of development unfolded, I gained an appreciation for how very complex and intricate are the programming machinations behind the instantaneous, intuitive, and wondrous facility of our digital technology. Getting things right – and getting them right every time – and getting things to look and feel right - are magnificent feats that we nonprogrammers should never take for granted.

But the idea did become a reality. It would not have happened so quickly, and possibly not at all, had one of my daughters not joined the effort. Her business experience and analytical mind shaped the outcome immeasurably and created a solid product. The other daughter had dozens of practical solutions about web and social media marketing I had no clue about. Maybe Memo will pay off for them when I finish turning into my mother.

So Mom, I wish Memo had been here for you. It would have helped both of us get through those times when you were trying so hard to run your own life and I was trying to help but was probably too frustrated, hurried, and impatient to be very useful. If Memo is a success at helping other people, we all owe you for your determination and spirit and the lessons you left behind.

Merilee, Founder and President of Memo Touch

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