Over the course of her journalism career, working first for Bloomberg News and then for Time magazine, Jay Newton-Small reported on the Arab Spring protests and the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, and interviewed presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. She even published a book, Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way Washington Works, drawing on her coverage of women in the Senate. And now? Newton-Small’s latest beat is the retirement population: she’s the CEO of MemoryWell, a service she cofounded in 2016 to tell the stories of senior citizens. It’s a job shift that makes perfect sense once you consider her own life experiences, which she recounts ahead. memorywell.com
MemoryWell grew out of my experience caregiving for my dad, who had Alzheimer’s. Eventually, I had to put him into a care community, and when I did, they asked me to fill out a twenty-page questionnaire about his life. This made no sense to me. Who would ever read and remember twenty pages of hand-written data points? So instead I wrote down his story, which transformed his care, since his caregivers got to know him through it. For example, two of them were Ethiopian, and they had no idea that he’d lived in Ethiopia for four years. MemoryWell has built a network of more than six hundred writers across the country who conduct interviews, so they can do the same thing for other elders.
The book I’m writing now got its start when I realized how unprepared I was for caregiving—how unprepared our country is for the coming crisis of caregiving as the baby boomer generation ages. MemoryWell’s stories could help in addressing that crisis, partly because they pave the way for more informed, empathetic care, but also because we have begun to pull data from them. Some of it could give us a better understanding of how environmental factors might trigger diseases like Alzheimer’s, which we now know manifests twenty to thirty years before people become symptomatic.
THE 99 PERCENT
At Time, I wrote about the most powerful people in the world, the 1 percent. At MemoryWell, we’re writing about the other 99 percent, with senior care as our point of entry. It’s incredibly fulfilling—we’re capturing stories that would otherwise be lost.