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Marlena Books Helps People with Alzheimer’s and Dementia Read with Dignity

If you have Alzheimer’s or dementia, reading a newspaper or fictional book can be a daunting task, and reading a children’s story can feel undignified. By creating modified books with thicker pages, reading prompts, and mature content, Marlena Books is providing meaningful leisure and cognitive stimulation to individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Founded by Rachel Thompson, Marlena Books is a combination of her two grandmother’s names: Marilyn, who has battled with dementia for 10 years, and Helena, who was battling breast cancer during the startup’s creation. Both of Rachel’s grandmothers loved to read, but were looking for shorter stories that would allow them to read at a modified level. When Rachel went online to look for these types of books, she found there was nothing available, so she decided to take matters into her own hands and design books to meet the needs of this audience, where even artwork is created by people with dementia.

Rachel started her journey by applying to St. Paul’s Big Ideas Challenge, in order to test if her idea would work, or even help people. She ended up winning the Big Ideas Challenge, and proceeded to live at St. Paul’s GreenHouse during Spring 2015, where she worked to validate her market. This past fall she had a soft launch, and sold over 200 books to long-term care facilities.

“As a Health Sciences student with no business background, I had no idea that I was going to become an entrepreneur. It wasn’t the career path I had in mind, but I’m going to stick with it.” – Rachel Thompson, Founder of Marlena Books

Marlena Books entered the Velocity Garage looking for mentorship regarding entry to the consumer market. “The people definitely make Velocity what it is. I love the sense of community, and it is nice to hear when people are going through the same thing as you,” Rachel said.

The whole point of Marlena Books is to improve the quality of life for people with dementia and really focus on the social impact. For Rachel, it’s about how she can help not only people with dementia, but their families as well. The books have helped with reminiscence therapy (getting people to remember their past), and families have used it as a way to connect. Marlena Books hopes to sell books on their website by the end of March, and the company currently has five titles available on a range of topics like romance, and hockey, with the hope to release five additional titles annually.

“There’s a different interpretation of social impact businesses, especially in Waterloo, when we’re surrounded by so much tech. I’ve been able to show others that you can be a social project, generate revenue, and influence lives.”