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Maude’s Ventures @ Santa Clara University: Innovations in Dementia Care

You may already know about Maude’s Awards—a program that awards innovative practices in our community that enrich the quality of life for persons living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. But have you heard about Maude’s Ventures? The mission of Maude’s Ventures is to invest in people and organizations that want to build new ways to meet the needs of the dementia community.

So, what’s the difference between the two? Maude’s Awards celebrates existing therapies and innovative programs—from arts engagement workshops to calming, immersive virtual reality experiences—while Maude’s Ventures provides seed money for new innovations in dementia care.

McKenzie Himes presents the Buddy System App, a personalized peer support platform for caregivers, at the Design Sprint for Maude’s Ventures @ SCU hosted by the UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center.

The passion for these programs comes from Maude and Richard Ferry—founders of the Ferry Foundation. The executive director of the foundation is their grandson, Quentin Orem, who has led the organization since 2020. Orem’s grandfather, Richard, is co-founder of the Korn Ferry corporation—recognized as a global research and consulting firm.

His grandmother, Maude, was diagnosed with dementia 2013. Orem recalls how surprised his family was when they first heard about the diagnosis.

“My grandmother was famous for being the healthiest person that anyone knew,” he said. “She was incredibly active, vibrant, and beautiful through her 60s and 70s, although most of her 70s were touched by dementia.”

That surprise quickly turned into awe as he watched his grandfather evolve into a devoted caregiver and tireless advocate. “My grandfather spared no sacrifice to care for my grandmother full time from day one,” Orem said. “He sold their Mercer Island home, moved into an assisted living community, and stepped back from corporate life, even forgoing the retirement joys of travel. His devotion to my grandmother was unwavering. We all knew he was a great man, but in caring for Grandma we saw his love and commitment in the most vivid way.”

Orem’s grandmother Maude passed away in 2021. Both Maude’s Awards and Maude’s Ventures for Innovation in Alzheimer’s Care carry their family’s commitment forward—to advance care for people living with Alzheimer’s while we wait for a cure.

In February 2022, as a result of Orem’s grandfather’s frustration with the challenges he encountered with his wife’s care that didn’t have solutions, Maude’s Ventures was launched. Maude’s Ventures invests in nonprofit and for-profit entrepreneurs who compete in an annual contest for funding.

This year, Maude’s Ventures launched its first university partnership: Maude’s Ventures @ SCU. The initiative is a multi-year partnership with the Santa Clara University BioInnovation and Design Lab, which facilitates experiential learning opportunities in healthcare fields. Santa Clara students and faculty put their entrepreneurial skills to work to address some of the 21st century’s most pressing healthcare challenges.

Maude’s Ventures @SCU is a novel partnership that cultivates innovation in dementia care practices while introducing students from various disciplines to the innovation process in the context of a social impact on dementia care. Students from engineering, biology, public health, business, and other disciplines work in value-driven partnerships with Silicon Valley medical device and biotechnology companies and medical organizations to find innovative, impactful solutions to real-world problems.

Last July, I had the opportunity to participate on a panel of judges for the Maude’s Ventures @ Santa Clara University (SCU) Pitch Day, hosted by the UW Memory Hub. “We were honored to host the Maude’s Ventures design sprint at the Memory Hub,” said Hub director Marigrace Becker. “The SCU student and faculty teams’ commitment to improving the lives of people with dementia and caregivers—in such creative ways—was truly inspiring!”

The winning pitch

Eight students, comprised of four teams, traveled to Seattle to pitch their innovative ideas. Each team presented an idea for an innovation which was voted on by a panel of judges. The winning team (Kennedy Anderson, SCU Public Health Sciences, 2023; Leslie Catano, SCU Public Health Sciences, 2022; and Emma Cepukenas, SCU Public Health Sciences, 2023) pitched virtual reality (VR) Memory Care Training—a way of providing immersive, person-centered memory-care training for at-home caregivers, to relieve the stress of caregiving and improve the quality of care for dementia patients.

The VR team’s pitch included a discussion about the importance of ongoing support and training needed for informal caregivers whose loved ones have dementia. They also highlighted that training requirements for professional caregivers are inconsistent and are often not dementia specific. Although there are a variety of existing training programs available for both informal and professional caregivers that meet the Alzheimer’s Association recommendations, watching videos to develop skills may not be the best approach.

The VR technology opens the door for active and dynamic learning, and is already used by innovative healthcare companies, such as Embodied Labs, to allow caregivers to experience the world through the eyes of people with dementia and other conditions such as hearing and vision loss. The virtual reality experience was created to promote empathy among caregivers, and deliver outcomes such as improved quality of care, increased caregiver engagement and satisfaction, and reduced burnout.

It is also important for formal and informal caregivers to receive person-centered training so that they can manage the challenging aspects of caring for people with dementia. VR training offers a unique opportunity for caregivers to engage in role-playing activities and make decisions involving care in real time. Lastly, when compared to other trainings, VR training is instantaneously scalable and far less costly to offer. Given the caregiver challenges we face today, I can honestly say that, as a judge, I was not only impressed but hopeful about the impact of this type of training technology.

The other pitches

Curious about the other dementia design pitch ideas? The pitches and teams included:

  • Buddy System App—A way to connect caregiver ‘experts’ with ‘novice’ caregivers to improve caregiving knowledge and foster feelings of support. (McKenzie Hines, SCU Neuroscience, 2023; An Mai, SCU Public Health Sciences, 2022)
  • Incontinence Management Mobile App—A way to address incontinence in late-stage dementia patients in order to decrease caregiver physical and psychological burden. (Maria Gonzalez, SCU Public Health Sciences, 2023; Kate Rickwa, SCU Public Health Sciences, 2023; and Kiren Grewal, SCU Public Health Sciences, 2023)
  • Mental Health Resources App—A way to decrease the emotional struggle to ameliorate caregiver psychological turmoil. (Luciana Length, SCU Public Health Sciences, 2023; Renceh Flojo, Bioengineering, 2023)

The non-winning team designs will still have an opportunity to be further refined by future Capstone students, independent studies, or a faculty-led project.

In conclusion, Orem summed it up nicely: “As a Santa Clara graduate, I witnessed the power of an institution that wants to leverage all the brilliance of Silicon Valley with a sense of mission. That’s what Santa Clara is all about and how it distinguishes itself from others. We learn things and gain the skills we have so that we can serve others.”

Karen WintsonContributor Karen Winston is a senior planner at Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for King County, and a division of Seattle Human Services. Karen’s portfolio includes collaboration with the Washington State Dementia Action Collaborative and other community partners focused on improving the lives of people living with memory loss.

Photo at top shows Design Sprint participants (left to right) Kate Rickwa, Luciana Lenth, Maria Gonzalez, Kennedy Andersen, Leslie Catano, Renceh Flojo, and McKenzie Himes.

The full Design Sprint judging panel included Don and Pam Mitchell, community members; Shamim Naigaga, UW CoMotion; Carolyn Parsey, UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center; and Karen Winston, Aging and Disability Services.

Posted in Memory Issues