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Memory aids

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Dementia can lead to various grades of memory loss. Patients with dementia often experience difficulty with short term or working memory while long term memory is often preserved. Patients that experience this short term memory loss have difficulties in ADLs as well as social interaction. The device types described below address these two concerns felt by patients with dementia and their caregivers.


Audio Cueing Aids

Voice Activated Phone Dialer

This phone dialer installs between the telephone and the wall jack. It is user programmable so that each name or number is trained to hear a particular voice. The product comes in two models, one that dials by spoken name of entry only, and the other that dials by spoken name of entry and by spoken numbers. The dialer is capable of storing entries up to 45 digits long, allowing it to record international numbers or calling cards. Since the system can be activated mid-call, bank numbers and identification codes can also be stored and recalled.

Motion activated memo pad and door chime

Although this device was designed for the blind, the motion activated memo pad can also aid in people with memory loss. If it is placed near the home’s exit, the memo pad can remind its users of important messages before leaving for work or school. Messages can be recorded for up to 10 seconds and play back when motion is detected within 10 feet of the device.

Visual Cueing Aids

Amplified Photo Phone

This photo phone allows the user to store up to 9 telephone numbers. The dial buttons are covered by a template that allows the user to insert a picture to associate with the telephone number.


This product was also developed for outside of the context of memory aids. However, because of the visual and sensory cues that it provides, can be helpful to people experiencing memory loss. The QCharm can be ordered as a bracelet or keychain with an assortment of charms that can be easily added and removed. The images on the charms are customizable to fit the daily lifestyle and needs of the user. For someone with memory difficulties, the charms can be added to the charm at the beginning of the day and removed one by one as that particular task is complete or just used as a cue to start the next activity.

Conversation Aids

Conversation aids address the fact that many people with memory loss experience deficits in short term or working memory, making casual dialogue difficult. Long term memory may be intact, but bringing these memories to the surface during conversation can still be difficult for these patients.


One project, the CIRCA (computer interactive reminiscence and conversation aid) was developed by a team of researchers from University of Dundee and University of St. Andrews (Scotland) to help patients with dementia invoke well remembered previous experiences and share them with other people. Facilitating conversation with others via well-rehearsed or well-remembered long term memories can help the patient with memory loss feel more integrated in their community and reduce stress induced by an inability to hold conversation of current topics.

CIRCA is designed as a touch screen system with easy to follow directions for independent use. The caretaker is encouraged to sit next to the user and engage in their conversation prompted by music, photo, and images from a database dating back to the 1930s. CIRCA developers found that generic content best stimulates people’s memories over personal images (including those of family members or family vacations).

During its development, CIRCA was tested on 40 dementia patients in day care, nursing facilities, and home environments. The CIRCA project was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council as a three year project starting in 2001.

In a usability study published in 2006 by Alm M et al, patients with dementia found the system easy to use and even fun to interact with. CIRCA use promoted more a conversation between patient and caretaker, while traditional reminiscing techniques resulted in more direct questions.

Next generation personal memory aids

iRemember memory prosthesis

The iRemember memory prosthesis was developed out of the MIT Media Lab. This device collects, indexes, and organizes audio input received throughout the day. The computer attempts to pick up key features of the audio recordings, including speaker identification and speaker tone. The computer then converts short clips of audio into text using a speech recognizer. The user can then search within the organized material using some key words to help retrieve a forgotten memory. In a paper published by iRemember designer Sunil Vemuri et al, the researchers describe the effectiveness of the tool in resolving simulated memory problems during a two-year study of 3 subjects. In 49 questions that resulting in memory problems, 64% were successful either by remembering on their own (7 cases, 13%) or by help with the device (29 cases, 52%). There was a mixed success (13 success, 9 fail) in retrieving the correct answer when they did not remember having the conversation. Yet in 11 cases, subjects remembered having the conversation but were not able to find the answer using the tool. iRemember designer, Sunil Vemuri, has since started his own company in 2007 founded by the research completed at MIT and with a new product, reQall. The reQall application can be set up to be used from any phone (mobile or smart phone), web browsers, or instant messaging tools. The application moniters the user’s current status (location, time, and upcoming items on the calendar), predicts the events the user may forget, and delivers event reminders.

SenseCam: A retrospective memory aid

SenseCam is a wearable digital camera designed by Microsoft researcher Lyndsay Williams in 1999. The SenseCam takes wide-angled photos at regular set intervals or triggered by changes in light/temperature. Images can be played back at 3-10 frames per second, replaying the entire day’s footage in a few minutes. Users with memory deficits can review the recorded material at the end of the day or after a period of days. Research with the SenseCam and subjects that experience memory deficits has shown that SenseCam improves memory recall over writing in a diary for days and months following the event in question. SenseCam is now being manufactured and marketed as ViconRevue and is available for research investigating memory loss.

Example of image taken by SenseCam technology
Example of image taken by SenseCam technology

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