How smartphone technology is being used to combat memory loss
In order to assist those living with age-related memory loss - including people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia - researchers at the University of Toronto have developed digital technology to help people recall and retain their memories for longer periods of time.
“The HippoCamera is a smartphone-based app that is designed to mimic the function of the Hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that we know is damaged in Alzheimer’s disease,” said cognitive neuroscientist Morgan Barense on CTV News Channel Thursday.
The hippocampus is an area of the brain involved in the creation of memories and is associated with learning and emotions.
“Basic science taught us a lot about how the brain supports memory and also how the brain is affected by Alzheimer’s disease,” Barense said. “In all of our pockets we have an enormous amount of computing power, so we said can we put these two things together?”
Barense said their technology is different from just taking a video on your phone to rewatch later because their app simulates hippocampal replay, mimicking the actual processes the brain uses to learn and recall memories..
Hippocampal replay is when a memory is repeatedly ‘broadcast’ to the rest of the brain repeatedly, which stimulates the cortex and causes the memory to be learned and retained.
“In Alzheimer’s disease the hippocampus is damaged,” said Barense. “The idea being that the HippoCamera could scaffold that [and] could simulate this Hippocampal replay.”
The results have been promising. Their research subjects – young people, healthy older people and older people starting to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease – have shown a “25 per cent boost in memories” and “everyday events [being] recalled for a much longer of time” said Barense.
“We’re also finding enhanced brain activity… which is associated with memories that were replayed using the app,” she said.
Barense said researchers plan to roll out the app to people in nursing homes, including individuals who have more severe memory impairments.