Wearable Cameras Like Sensecam Can Help People with Alzheimer’s Disease
Several advancements in camera technology have been written in a number of posts in this blog, from the senseless resolution wars in smartphone cameras to the eye-like curved camera sensor from Sony. These demonstrate many useful and some capricious improvements but for the most part, they bring forth greater mobility for cameras. This mobility is doubtlessly advantageous not only for those who are fond of taking selfies but more specially for those who make use of their mobile or wearable cameras for more meaningful applications – dealing with with the problem of memory loss in particular.
The photos taken by cameras don’t only capture moments; they can also trigger memories for those who have difficulties in remembering details of their lives. People afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, specifically, greatly benefit from the memory recall they achieve upon seeing sets of photos from a particular event, as taken by a wearable camera.
One of the more popular wearable cameras in the market at present is Sensecam. Developed by Microsoft, this wearable device was originally intended to be a personal black box. It is a lifelogging camera that comes with a fisheye lens and a host of trigger sensors including microphones, heat sensors, and accelerometer. It is designed to be worn on the neck to be able to take photographic snaps with the least possible obstructions.
Sensecam takes photos every time the sensors detect significant changes affecting the wearer. These changes could be a temperature rise or drop, changes in lighting, or sudden motion. It does not simply randomly take photos or continuously snaps images to make the most of the device’s battery. The fisheye lens is employed to be able to take the most amount of visual data possible, simulating the typical field of view most people see with their unaided eyes. The accelerometer, on the other hand, is used to stabilize images, to reduce blurs especially when the camera wearer is in motion.
Hundreds of photos are taken each day by Sensecam and other similar cameras such as Autographer and and the Kickstarter backed Memoto. These lifelogging photos are particularly helpful in health monitoring activities. As mentioned earlier, people who are suffering from Alzheimer’s can benefit from the photographic lifelogging. This isn’t a claim that can be quickly dismissed as a marketing gimmick. The claimed advantages Sensecam provides are backed by scientific explanations and research, as discussed below.
Memory Recovery Benefits
BBC ran a feature about Sensecam in 2010, exploring the benefits believed to be derived from the use of Sensecam. The Alzheimer’s sufferer featured attested to how she was able to recall specific details of her experiences with the help of the images captured by the Sensecam she was made to wear. In 2007, a case study was published presenting a 63-year-old librarian (known as Mrs. B.) who suffered from amnesia induced by a brain infection. With the help of Sensecam, Mrs. B. was able to remember over 80% of the important details of the experiences she encountered after a fortnight reviewing of Sensecam images every two days. She eventually managed to retain her ability to recall memories even without seeing the photos. The study on Mrs. B. tracked her progress for two years, after which it was found that her brain showed increased activity in parts linked to experiences associated with time and place, referred to as episodic memories. This is believed to be a good hint on how to bring out stored but inaccessible memories in the human brain.
An article on The Guardian discussed the potential of wearable cameras in helping those who are suffering from Alzheimer’s. The article points out several instances when Sensecam was able to help several people afflicted by the disease in being able to remember up to 85% of their memories even weeks after the experiences when the memories were created.
The Alzheimer’s Society’s Dr. Doug Brown, in an interview with The Guardian, appreciates all the positive findings that are opening the possibilities for at least slowing down the complete memory degradation caused by Alzheimer’s. He thinks, however, that the studies that have been conducted so far are too small to be able to come up with meaningful conclusions. Fortunately, larger trials with Sensecam and other similar wearable camera technologies are already being undertaken in France and Portugal.
The miniaturization of camera technology is doubtlessly advantageous as it leads to better portability and versatility. It may not even be necessary to buy a Sensecam if the goal is to simply record daily activities. Most modern smartphones already sport high quality cameras with wide angle lenses and a host of sensor that can be programmed to emulate the way Sensecam works. For smartphones that have a narrow field of view, it is possible to buy cheap wide angle lenses to be directly attached to smartphone cameras. It’s really great to know that the ubiquitous mobile and wearable cameras can even serve good solutions in saving the memories of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.