Wearable Camera Restores Memory to the Elderly
> 12/10/2007 2:44:34 PM

The memory loss that comes with dementia can turn independent living into an unattainable dream for many elderly citizens. Confusion clouds the past until they are unsure what errands they have already done, or where they are and how they got there. A new video technology developed by Microsoft offers the hope that those with dementia will be able to retain more of their memories and perhaps the ability to live without constant assistance.

The SenseCam is a small, wide-lens digital camera that automatically takes a picture every 30 seconds. You don't have to remember to bush any buttons, all you have to do is wear the SenseCam and download the contents at the end of the day. The next day, you review the previous day's events in a quick slideshow so that you can consolidate memories and make sure that you are not forgetting or needlessly repeating important actions.

Critics might argue that reviewing pictures serves no purpose for those with dementia because they will just promptly forget it all again. Refuting that criticism is a recent study published in Neuropsychological Rehabilitation. Lead author Dr. Emma Berry focused on one patient, code-named Mrs. B, so her finding is positive but not as conclusive as a larger-scale study would be. Before the study, Mrs. B could recall very little of what happened to her every day, a fact that greatly distressed her in moments of lucidity. After using the SenseCam, she was able to recall 80% of personal events. This greater retention lasted a year after events and months after she discontinued use of the SenseCam, suggesting that the SenseCam did not facilitate retention by boosting memory ability in general, but rather by some other means such as allowing better memory consolidation. Mrs. B also used a traditional, paper diary, but this helped her remember only 49% of events, a mediocre benefit that was lost a month after diary use was discontinued.

The SenseCam is just one example of the many ways that new technology can improve the lives of elderly citizens with cognitive impairments. With a slight alteration to allow family members to remotely access the camera, patients with dementia can be monitored in real-time. While this monitoring might seem like an invasion of privacy, it actually might allow those with dementia to have greater independence, as their loved ones can let them do things alone without as much fear that they will be lost or taken advantage of.

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