Rethinking Healthcare

Wearable camera helps stave off memory decline

Posting in Technology

For Alzheimer's patients, a camera with electronic sensors that takes photos automatically could delay cognitive decline. Reviewing the SenseCam pictures is like brain calisthenics.

Having trouble conjuring up visions of Christmases past? For Alzheimer’s and amnesia patients, the wearable SenseCam may help.

Worn around the neck, the small camera automatically snaps photographs throughout the day. The idea isn’t to use images to replace memory… but rather, use images to stimulate it. Each photograph can serve as cue, tapping into the web of recollections. Scientific American reports.

SenseCam (pictured) is developed by Microsoft and marketed as the Vicon Revue. To ensure that nearly everything in the wearer’s view is captured, it uses a fish-eye lens to capture a wide-angle view (pictured, sample image). It does this passively, without the user having to do much.

It contains a bunch of different electronic sensors: light-intensity and light-color sensors, a passive infrared detector, a temperature sensor, and a multiple-axis accelerometer.

  • Each time the wearer moves between rooms, a sensor picks up the change in light, and the camera takes a new photograph.
  • If a person walks by, an infrared sensor detecting the body heat will trigger another photo.
  • Or, the user can set the camera to store a new image at regular intervals (like every 30 seconds).

The photos are taken at VGA resolution (640x480 pixels) and stored as compressed .jpg files on internal flash memory. The 1 gig of flash memory typically stores over 30,000 images. What you end up with is a thumbnail chronology of the minutia of daily life. The images can later be displayed on a PC individually or as a flip-book.

Reviewing the pictures may be a form of brain calisthenics for enhancing a mental process known as autobiographical memory – recalling the time and place of past events. Alzheimer’s obliterates the ability to engage in this type of mental time travel.

Via Scientific American.

Images: Microsoft Research, Vicon Revue

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure