Jorg Roth is the founder of My Life Films, a charity that makes professional quality, bespoke autobiographical films of people with dementia, for no charge to them or their families. The films are skilfully edited, divided into short chapters depicting important periods of the individual’s life, so that he or she doesn’t have to concentrate for too long, and set to a soundtrack of their favourite music.
Roth came to dementia not as a carer or medic, or a professional from the social care world, but as a successful film maker with a wealth of experience. He’s a creative with a commercial approach to dementia. But don’t switch off at the sound of what he himself calls the “C word”.
Commercialism, he says , can be good. He knows that if people with dementia don’t rate, like and use his product, it won’t fly. For him, the user experience is king. And the users of his product, his customers and consumers, are those living with the condition. As they might put it: nothing about us without us.
The making of the film, the collecting of old photographs, memories and stories of its subject, is as rewarding as the highly watchable result. Since the charity was set up seven years ago it’s produced 300 films that have benefitted hundreds of individuals, families and carers. For, as well as the longer film, the feature-length event as it were, My Life Films also produces a short five minute, narrated version of the person’s life for formal carers so that they can get to know and really understand who it is they’re caring for.
The finished film is premiered in the presence of its star and their family and friends. The impact on all involved is extraordinary and very moving. Some of you may remember my podcast with Mike Parish whose partner of 45 years, Tom Hughes, has dementia. Mike commissioned a My Life Film for Tom and says that every time Tom watches it he’s transfixed.
“The personalised music captures his attention in a way that TV burbling in the background wouldn’t,” says Mike. “And it’s a treasure forever.”
A My Life Film bring families together, gives friends an understanding of dementia they might never have had, and is now impressing the medical profession. A recent study at St George’s NHS Mental Health Trust in London concluded that My Life Films can lessen the behavioural and psychological symptoms of those with dementia and improve their quality of life, as well as enhancing relationships between carers and those they care for and reducing medication. Another evaluation by Hampshire County Council revealed the same beneficial consequences.
More recently, during lockdown, Jorg and his team have set up My Life TV, aka Netflix for people with dementia, with on-demand programmes as varied as specially designed quizzes, singalongs, chair yoga, nature programmes, archive news and shows. Individuals and care homes can sign up for monthly subscriptions. The modest fees help finance the My Life Films.