Over the last several years I’ve enjoyed writing posts for McKnight’s. I’ve never felt it appropriate to use my blog to talk about It’s Never 2 Late, however, if they’ll indulge me, I’ll use this vehicle to talk about our new driving game! (get it?!). It’s all about re-living the experience of getting behind the wheel of your favorite automobile and the memories that conjures up in our minds.

A driving game. It’s not that big of a deal. Or is it? I can’t tell if it’s because I’m getting older and I’m becoming comfortably aware of my own mortality. But, I find myself noticing things through a different lens than I used to.  As my dementia gurus have taught me, the disease is a place where incrementally things are taken away from people, and clearly giving up the keys is a huge loss. I used to think about how if must feel for “them.” Now I wonder how it will feel for “me”.    

My thoughts shift this time to the release of a new product for iN2L. A driving experience – It’s simple, yet profound. Its relevant as it speaks to what my dementia expert buddies have taught me over the years about the reality of dementia, the incremental losses associated with it, from the perspectives of the person who is living with it, family members and caregivers.

When we first started the company 20 years ago, we had a driving experience built into the program. It was a cool experience, but somewhat clunky, and often didn’t load correctly. Regardless, it did bring smiles to the elders. We knew this was an offering that was in high demand so we’ve been working to make it better. After a lot of development work and dedication to an improved experience, we are delighted to add this to our extensive arsenal of engagement experiences.

Case in point: Check out the smile in this photo. This is an elder from Anthem Memory Care in Colorado. Anthem has been a rich testing ground for a lot of our ideas (thanks to Jenni Dill, Life Engagement Director)  Dennis, the elder pictured here, was our “crash test dummy.” He not only lit up when he started driving, but he started talking about the Porsche he had a few decades ago. I think he had as much fun talking about the Porsche experience as he did driving our “car.”  

All of us have that visceral first car and first driving experience. For me, it was my used 1976 yellow Honda Civic I got as a senior in high school. Hearing Dennis talk about his Porsche made me think about those days that reside in the rear-view mirror of my own life.

Our tech gang has intentionally not made it a “game.” It’s THE experience of driving: a comfortable steering wheel, easy brake and pedal, driving mode options for mountain or a farm ride (with more to come).  

The point is: We’re not trying to make it more complicated than just a cool, simple simulated experience – ties well into our tagline of “dignity through technology!” If you can no longer get behind the wheel of an actual car, you can still have that feeling and recall days of the wind in your hair and the open road. Or, the screaming kids in the rear-view mirror and you warning: “If I have to stop this car….!!”

Kudos to our tech team for putting this all together, and a huge shout out to our inspiration Mike Belleville.  He is a remarkable man living with dementia in Boston, who, for many years was a tech big shot at Verizon and now consults for us on our own product development roadmap. His diagnosis is not slowing him down.

The path of dementia is a painful one,  but it does not have to take away joy. Mike (and his buddies Robert and Brian) have taught me that. I’m extremely proud of this new program, but we don’t pretend to be reversing the decline and we don’t get caught up in how many brain cells it may light up.  But we do know that it did put a smile on Dennis’s face, I was there to see it. That’s something important…and good enough for me.

Jack York is the president and co-founder of It’s Never 2 Late® (iN2L).