Kai and SallyWorldwide there are more than 44 million people with dementia. By 2050 that number will increase to an estimated 135 million if no cure is found for Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.

For a dedicated team of WSU students, alumni and employees, providing comfort to those who suffer from some form of dementia has progressed from a class project to a passion. The group formed a startup company, “MEternally, LLC,” in 2013; presented its beta software at the Meeting of the Minds Dementia Conference in St. Paul this spring; and has now signed a contract to appear on season 2 of the Buffalo, N.Y., Fox affiliate’s “The Crowd Funder Show” later this fall.

For Winona State student and IT Services employee Sally Mathews Inglett, the reality of dementia hits close to home. Inglett’s mother suffered from dementia before her passing and often lacked a response to sensory input. However, her mother, a lifelong bird lover, responded favorably to cardinal songs played by a cuckoo clock, making Inglett wonder if there were a way to use sounds and visuals to create positive associations for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Focusing on this idea, Inglett joined with WSU student Chris “Kai” Hanson and recent graduate Nathan Snyder to use technology to facilitate this connection, and together the team created the software for MEternally Memory Modules.

MEternally is currently working on a design that would run without a full-sized computer and could be plugged into an existing TV, run on an open source tablet and eventually a web application. Through the modular program interface, the user and/or caregiver can create a custom group of modules similar to continual screensavers displayed on a TV or computer monitor.

While initial modules focused on generic elements such as mountains, specific decades in time, fishing, pets, the city or the country, the eventual goal will be to customize the visuals and audio of each module to include personal photos and sounds or music representative of the individual’s own life experiences.

In addition to providing comfort to the patient, the modules help orientate family, friends and caregivers, connecting them to the patient’s interests and history, and reminding them of the person they once were.

“It’s easy, even among family, for the disease to mask the person’s personality,” said Inglett. “Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia not only rob the person of their memory but also present the family and loved ones with a stranger in their midst. The reminder of who that person is—not was—and things that they love can translate into an experience of dignity, love and respect.”

For more information and to view the demo software visit http://www.meternally.com/.