Camilla Lindholm, professor of Nordic languages, has studied interaction and dementia for more than a decade. Her research is based on real interaction situations in which one of the participants has a memory disorder. Such interactions have been videoed in day centres and nursing homes.
“The situations are characterised by linguistic and interaction problems. A simple example would be that persons with a memory disorder may not realise they are being addressed if the nurse does not stop to speak with them. This can result in misunderstandings and frustration,” Lindholm explains.
According to Lindholm, there is demand for the product. Training sessions and discussions with nurses have shown that interaction problems pose a challenge in their work. There just isn’t enough information. This is the problem Memocate wants to address, to improve the daily lives of its users.
Taking interaction expertise abroad
The first stage of Memocate is currently underway. According to CEO Heikki Viitanen, they will have a finished product later this year.
“We are now starting to test and develop materials together with professionals from the care industry. We are working with three senior centres and one municipality. At the same time, we are putting together a material package for family caregivers. We’re also looking for a partner for a larger pilot project which will be tailored to meet the needs of the client.”
When the next stage is launched a year from now, the goal is for the selection of courses intended for family caregivers to be complete. The six-strong Memocate team works in English, and it is seeking partners from beyond Finland, at least in Sweden and the UK.
“We hope to operate not just in Europe, but globally,” Viitanen explains.
Memocate’s services are being designed to solve the problems inherent in asymmetric interaction. The problems are not restricted to interaction with memory disorder sufferers. Camilla Lindholm sees the different client groups as new pathways and markets for the business.
“Asymmetric interaction means that one or more participants have weaker linguistic and interaction skills than the others. A native speaker of a language is in a stronger position than someone who has learned it as a second language, and a doctor who represents a healthcare institution is in a higher position than an ordinary person. Asymmetric interaction is also common in the care of people with developmental delays or who are on the autism spectrum.”
According to Lindholm, a person with a memory disorder can also receive training, particularly in the early stages of the illness. As the illness progresses, the other participant must assume more responsibility for the interaction.
Students to help invent ideas
Students are a significant group both in Memocate’s clientele and in commercialising innovations.
“If we want the attitudes and culture of care work to change, we have to start with the students,” Heikki Viitanen states.
The trying situation in elderly care, which has even made it to the headlines, could be eased with a change in culture.
“It’s possible to do the work more efficiently and with better results once we can improve interaction skills. Non-medicated rehabilitation will increase, and caregivers will be in less of a hurry. This is the style of work our training supports.”
Both Viitanen and Lindholm see a great deal of untapped potential in students and researchers in the humanities. The creative force comes out precisely in cooperation.
“The researchers have the ideas and expertise, and the students have the time and energy to develop new things,” Viitanen states.
“We want to bring students and researchers together,” adds Lindholm.
They are planning a start-up camp, which may lead to new business ideas that could help make the world a better place.
Cooperation from a start-up camp
Lindholm, who serves as scientific advisor, partnered with Memocate Heikki Viitanen.
“Camilla and I met at a start-up camp in Jurmala. I was there through the Tampere-based innovation centre Demola, and Camilla had been sent by Helsinki Innovation Services.”
Owned by the University of Helsinki, Helsinki Innovation Services (HIS) has already incubated several companies based on research conducted at the University during its six years of operation. Memocate is the ninth such company, and the first to originate at the Faculty of Arts.
Since the beginning of the year, Camilla Lindholm has also served as an innovation scout alongside her day job. The innovation scouts pilot project was created at Aalto University.
“In practice, innovation scouts serve as the link between researchers and research administration. I tell researchers about corporate cooperation and Horizon2020 programmes, I help them promote their business ideas, I think about what would benefit the University and how we could build and develop social impact through commercialisation.”