Using SenseCam to Alleviate Memory Loss

Early on in the development of SenseCam, we became aware of the work of the Memory Clinic and Memory Aids Clinic at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, UK. This is a centre of excellence in the UK for diagnosing various conditions that affect memory, and for working with patients to try and mitigate their symptoms. While there are established techniques to help people remember to do things (i.e. supplement their prospective memory), there are very few aids that complement autobiographical memory, i.e. support the remembrance of things done or experienced. The Memory Clinic was excited by the potential of SenseCam to help in this regard.

In around 2005 we started a trial with a 63-year-old patient from the clinic with amnesia resulting from a brain infection. The patient, Mrs. B, was given a SenseCam and asked to wear it whenever she anticipated a ‘significant event’ – the sort of event that she would like to remember (i.e. not just something routine or mundane).

After wearing SenseCam for the duration of such an event, Mrs. B would spend around one hour reviewing the images every two days, for a two-week period.

Without any aids to recall, Mrs. B typically completely forgets everything about an event after five days or less. However, during the course of this period of assisted recall using SenseCam, Mrs. B’s memory for the event steadily increased, and after two weeks she could recall around 80 percent of the event in question. What is perhaps more remarkable is that following the two-week period of aided recall, Mrs. B appears to have a lasting ability to recall the event even without reviewing the images.

The results of that initial trial with SenseCam are shown here; for more details and more recent results please refer to the list of SenseCam-related publications and presentations.

Following the success of the first trial and the excitement it generated in both the research and clinical rehabilitation communities, Microsoft Research made SenseCam devices available to a large number of researchers and also initiated additional trials related to SenseCam’s use as a memory aid. Using SenseCam seems to be a very positive experience for most of the patients involved. Many have reported enjoying using it and reviewing images of their experiences, explaining that it makes them feel much more confident and relaxed. This is in stark contrast to the use of a written diary, which patients typically report has the opposite effect. Carers have also reported that they find SenseCam very beneficial. Here are some of the things that patients and their carers have said about SenseCam:

  • "I am less anxious, because it helps to settle, or verify, what actually happened…”
  • “It has enormous potential as a memory aid and has been a great success for us personally”
  • “Looking at the images is definitely helpful... they cue memories of things I would normally just forget”
  • “SenseCam is a Godsend... everyone should have one!”
  • I am “more relaxed socially and less anxious”
  • “Sharing experiences again is a sheer pleasure”

Microsoft has provided over $0.5M funding including SenseCam devices, software and support to facilitate collaborative research projects with academic and clinical memory experts around the world. Some of these projects, which broadly aim to address specific research questions and further our understanding of how SenseCam appears to give such dramatic results in improving memory recall, are listed below:

  • SenseCam in the study and support of memory in Transient Epileptic Amnesia
    Professor Adam Zeman, University of Exeter, UK
  • SenseCam-facilitated recollection in patients with dementia
    Professor Phil Barnard, Medical Research Council, Cambridge, UK, & Dr Linda Clare, University of Bangor, Wales, UK
  • Why and how are SenseCam movies such a powerful aid to memory? Locating the brain basis of memory improvement
    Professor Roberto Cabeza, Duke University, US, and Professor Martin Conway, University of Leeds, UK
  • Enhancing quality of life in Alzheimer’s Disease with automatic SenseCam records of days in one’s life
    Professor Ron Baecker, University of Toronto and Professor Yaakov Stern, Columbia Medical School, US
  • Evaluation of SenseCam as a tool for aiding executive self-monitoring and control of emotion and behaviour after brain injury
    Fergus Gracey, The Oliver Zangwill Centre for Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, Ely, UK
  • Evaluation of SenseCam as a retrospective memory compensation aid following acquired brain injury
    David Winkelaar, Psychologist, The Halvar Jonson Centre for Brain Injury
    Ponoka, Alberta, Canada
  • SenseCam as a Tool to Study Memory Processes in Autobiographical Memory
    Professor William F. Brewer, Professor Aaron S. Benjamin, and Jason R. Finley, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, US

Top of page

Sensors and Devices Group has a number of other exciting projects.