Microsoft develop camera to help with memory loss

December 27, 2007

Microsoft is collaborating with a number of UK and worldwide studies in developing the use of an automatic wearable camera that takes photos continuously through the day. Researchers claim it can transform the life of patients with memory loss, and they are developing the ‘SenseCam’ camera at Microsft’s Cambridge laboratory.

SenseCam is a wearable digital camera that is designed to take photographs passively, without user intervention, while it is being worn. Unlike a regular digital camera or a cameraphone, SenseCam does not have a viewfinder or a display that can be used to frame photos. Instead, it is fitted with a wide-angle (fish-eye) lens that maximizes its field-of-view which ensures that nearly everything in the wearer’s view is captured by the camera.

It was in 2005 that Microsoft first started a trial with a 63-year -old patient from the Memory Clinic and Memory Aids Clinic at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge. This patient had amnesia resulting from a brain infection and typically would forget everything about an event within five days or less of it happening.

The patient was given a SenseCam and asked to wear it whenever the sort of event that she would like to remember was happening. After wearing SenseCam for the duration of such an event, she would spend around one hour reviewing the images every two days, for a two-week period. During the course of this period of assisted recall using SenseCam, her 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.

Following the success of this first trial and the excitement it generated in both the research and clinical rehabilitation communities, Microsoft initiated a number of additional trials and are currently working with over half-a-dozen patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, and while these trials are ongoing the results to date are promising.

The programme has been funded with grants worth £220,000 for academics to investigate its health and medical applications. Among others, the money is going to the University of Exeter for a study of memory in Transient Epileptic Amnesia and to the Medical Research Council in Cambridge and the University of Bangor, Wales to study facilitated recollection in patients with dementia. Overseas, the University of Toronto and Columbia Medical School are collaborating on a trial with Sensecam to see if it could enhance quality of life in Alzheimer’s patients and the Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury in Alberta, Canada is studying if it could help with Memory recovery in brain injury patients.


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