Wearable cameras, new tools to investigate and fight against the loss of autobiographical memory

Last Update: Feb. 12, 2018 | Published: Jun 7, 2017 | Author: Patricia Morén

The loss of memory is a common fear among ageing people. Small memory deficits (mild cognitive impairment) may be the prelude to Alzheimer's dementia. Now, wearable cameras are emerging as very useful tools to investigate and attempt to remediate the decline of autobiographical memory, according to the scientific literature.

an illustration showing a head made of little dots.

Researchers work hard to find a solution to prevent the progression of amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) to Alzheimer's dementia. It is the dementia subtype with the highest risk of becoming Alzheimer's. Advanced age and retirement are two risk factors that can lead to this degenerative progression, according to a study conducted by Argentinian research institutions and published in Actas Españolas de Psiquiatría. The aMCI can start at least two decades before Alzheimer's onset clearly, according to a study of the University of Washington School of Medicine published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Therefore, there is a window period in which science focuses all its efforts to try to curb and alleviate the conversion to Alzheimer's.

Wearable cameras are emerging as very useful tools to investigate and try to stop the degeneration of autobiographical memory. In this regard, Neuropsychology Review has published PRISMA, a comprehensive systematic review of 28 studies with protocols that include the use of these devices, has analyzed its potential utility in different groups of subjects (young people, people with severe memory problems as a result of Brain damage, as well as people with mild cognitive impairment). The conclusion of this review is that wearable cameras are a useful resource to help patients alleviate their memory deficits from multiple causes, such as brain damage, mild cognitive impairment, an intracranial metastatic tumor or Alzheimer's disease itself.

Despite these hopeful findings, a new review of 25 research-studies published in January of 2018 in Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, from researchers of the University of Coimbra and the Université Grenoble Alpes, has pointed that there is a lack of a theoretical framework to support the effective use of wearable cameras for lifelogging, which means to record all the daily activity of a person. The authors expose that “wearable cameras can be particularly effective for memory rehabilitation if they can evoke more than a mere familiarity with previous stimuli, and reinstate previous thoughts, feelings and sensory information: recollection” and they add: “Considering that, in memory impairment, self-initiated processes to reinstate previous encoding conditions are compromised, we invoke the environmental support hypothesis as a theoretical motivation”. The researchers also conclude that from now on the research should focus on the theory-driven measure of efficacy described in their review, so that lifelogging technologies can contribute to memory rehabilitation in a meaningful and effective manner.

The pilot study 'Re-Memory'

HEALTHIO has Mental Health in mind

Healthio is a pioneering meeting, held for the first time in Barcelona in May 2017, in which innovative ongoing research, such as Re-memory project, has been presented. Patients, professionals (doctors, nurses and other healthcare profiles), healthcare managers, companies, institutions and associations of the health system have shared the most recent advances in the health sector.

Mental Health has also had a prominent place, through its own itinerary. The Mental Health Cluster of Catalonia and the CORE de Salut Mental of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona have been provided their own space to expose the projects mHealth technology applied to stress management, by Lluís Capdevila, researcher of CORE Salut Mental UAB and CEO of Health & SportLab, and PAMELA and the Moonwalker, by Lydia Gimenez-Llort and Ivan Alsina Jurnet, both researchers from CORE Salut Mental UAB.

Based on these findings published in the scientific literature and on the principles of neuronal plasticity, the Re-memory pilot project was conceived and implemented. "It is an innovative project, designed for patients with mild cognitive impairment of the amnesic subtype, at risk of dementia, who need a technological solution to improve their memory and, therefore, maintain their functional capacity and improve their emotional well-being," explains Maite Garolera, head of the Neuropsychology Unit and director of the Brain, Cognition and Behavior Clinical Research of the Consorci Sanitari de Terrassa (CST) and coordinator of this study. This is a pilot study, promoted by CST, along with other partners, and has been presented at the pioneering meeting Healthio, held in Barcelona.

This pilot project consists of equipping participating patients with a wearable camera to capture the images of all the activities they perform during the day. The camera shoots a picture every 30 seconds. And subsequently, these patients are exposed to images taken to help them remember the most recent episodes of their biography.

"Our goal is to stimulate cognitive function and to maintain the maximum functional autonomy of these patients," says Dr. Garolera, and "it is expected to be so, since when a patient is exposed to a self-image and recent in time, stimulates an emotion and seems more possible to achieve changes; in other words, to stimulate the brain in a multimodal way, as well as cognitive functions, has a very high impact in order to reactivate neural networks”, she explains.

However, wearable cameras are not the panacea for these patients. Dr. Garolera points out that "wearables allow us to capture reality, obtain information from the patient, but do not modify the brain. Wearables are the method we use - the car - but what matters is to make the trip to get to achieve it", she says.