Rachel Thompson, founder and CEO of Marlena Books, has developed a digital reading platform for people with later-stage dementia.

A new app designed to help people with later-stage dementia to continue reading has won the AGE-WELL National Impact Challenge.

The app currently has accessibility features such as automatic page turning. Stories touch on themes of interest to older adults, and can be personalized so that the reader becomes the main character in the book.

Yesterday’s win means that new features, such as graduated reading levels and audio support, can be added.

“For individuals living with later-stage dementias, reading traditional materials can be challenging,” said Rachel Thompson, CEO and founder of Marlena Books, which created the app. “The idea behind the app is to give people access to age-appropriate, dignified recreation which, in turn, can improve self-esteem and mood, and promote cognitive stimulation.”

Thompson’s own grandmother was an avid reader – until her dementia progressed. When Thompson couldn’t find “dementia-friendly” books for her grandmother, she created her own specialized books – and founded Marlena Books in 2016. The stories are all written by Canadian authors.

“For individuals living with later-stage dementias, reading traditional materials can be challenging,” said Rachel Thompson, CEO and founder of Marlena Books.

The Kitchener, ON-based company decided in 2017 to develop an app to provide additional accessibility features such as different font sizes and automatic page turning. Caregivers can see how much their family member has read, and with whom. They can add notes in an activity log.

“We believe this app has the potential to impact millions of people living with dementia, and their families,” Thompson told a panel of expert judges at the AGE-WELL National Impact Challenge, held yesterday in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The app is built for Apple iOS and will be available for downloading in the App Store by the end of October 2018.

Thompson said she’s “incredibly grateful” for the prize money. It will help her team complete a second version of the app, which will include audio support and graduated reading levels. Future versions will track changes in cognition, and support multiple languages.

Eight finalists took part in yesterday’s live pitch event, describing how their solution could positively impact older Canadians or their caregivers.

It was the grand finale of a Canada-wide competition that started in May, when AGE-WELL invited Canadians to identify great new ideas for technology-based solutions that will improve the quality of life of older Canadians and/or their caregivers. The challenge drew 60 video submissions from Canadians.

Nightingale.ai: The Smart Clinical Assessment Assistant was the runner-up at yesterday’s grand finale for an “intelligent” and portable device for conducting assessments of older adults’ physical functional and cognition.

The People’s Choice Award went to ARCtag, an automated, rapid communication tool to enhance safety during guided hikes and outdoor recreation tours for seniors.

Yesterday’s finale took place before an audience of almost 400 attendees at AGE-WELL’s 4th Annual Conference.

The winner’s prize is valued at $75,000 (cash and in-kind services), and the runner-up prize is valued at $35,000 (cash and in-kind). The cash prize associated with the competition is to be used solely for research and development of the idea, its dissemination or commercialization.

Generous sponsors of the AGE-WELL National Impact Challenge are: Bereskin & Parr, CARP, the Impact Centre, Revera, Sun Life Financial, and TELUS Ventures.