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SenseCam - Sensory Innovation Aids Memory Recall

Guest Weber Shandwick

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Guest Weber Shandwick

Results of a new study, published today in the JNNP*, prove that Microsoft Research’s innovative SenseCam technology can help people who have suffered from memory loss by enabling them to recall previously inaccessible memories.


The fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) study is one of a number taking place globally to determine the impact of SenseCam on patients with severe memory loss. Developed by Microsoft Research’s Cambridge (UK) laboratory team, SenseCam is a specialised wearable digital camera that is designed to take photographs passively, without any user intervention. It is fitted with a wide-angle lens that captures nearly everything in the patient’s field-of-view, providing an ongoing sensory ‘aide memoire’. Despite the large percentage of the population affected by memory problems, rehabilitation methods have not previously benefitted from any significant technology breakthroughs. Tools that exist to improve memory, such as alarms, diaries and calendars, are often especially difficult for cognitively impaired people to use and therefore have limited effectiveness. Microsoft Research has been conducting clinical trials to evaluate SenseCam as a memory aid for patients with diagnosed memory loss conditions, including those with Alzheimer’s. Its most recent study just concluded, run in collaboration with Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the MRC (Medical Research Council) Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, investigated how SenseCam affects neurological activity in different areas of the brain.


By tracking brain activity through fMRI scans, researchers have been able to show that memories are not simply recited by patients by recalling SenseCam images, but actually remembered. It appears that SenseCam images provide powerful cues which effect a natural recollection of the experience, including thoughts, feelings and occurrences that are not captured in the images themselves.


Dr Emma Berry, clinical neuropsychologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and the University of Hertfordshire, cites in her latest paper the case of a woman with amnesia who has started to recall and review past events by using the SenseCam device. The new paper suggests that using SenseCam to record and review images of past events provides improvements in autobiographical memory, even when a patient has a severe amnesic syndrome.


“Until now, the neural basis for our patient’s memory improvement has been unknown” says Dr Emma Berry “but through the results of this study, we’ve found evidence to suggest that these events were remembered and not just learned from excessive exposure of the SenseCam images. Our fMRI study shows that when she looks at the images, she not only remembers the event, which is incredible given the level of her amnesic syndrome, but that she activates parts of the brain associated with normal episodic memory.


No other device, tool or method has been as effective as SenseCam on people who ordinarily would forget a significant, meaningful event within days of it happening. Dr Steve Hodges, principal hardware engineer and manager of the sensors and devices group at Microsoft Research Cambridge adds: “It’s clear that SenseCam has a huge potential both as a memory aid and as a tool for clinicians to better understand cognitive brain functions and further advance the study of neuroscience. We’re really excited to be able to extend the project to actively involve so many leading researchers and clinicians around the world. Ultimately, if we can conclusively demonstrate that SenseCam can improve memory, and thereby the quality of life, in patients with amnesia and memory loss from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, that would be an absolutely tremendous result.”


Microsoft Research Cambridge has engaged in a number of partnerships and collaborations with academic and medical memory experts to address specific research questions and further their understanding of how SenseCam appears to give such dramatic results in improving memory recall. The fMRI study is a result of one of these collaborations.


Dr Adrian Owen, a Senior Scientist at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit where the patient was scanned added “Brain Imaging techniques such as fMRI are now beginning to contribute dramatically to our understanding of the causes of various clinical diseases and how devastating conditions such as profound memory loss might best be tackled. This is one very exciting example of that. Our brain scans show why this patient has such a poor memory, but more importantly, they give us some important new clues about how it is that SenseCam improves it”


For more information about SenseCam, please visit



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