A smartphone app can greatly improve memory recovery

summary: The new smartphone app, called HippoCamera, significantly improves memory recall and could have memory-improving applications for those with Alzheimer’s disease. The app mimics the function of the hippocampus, where it builds and maintains memories. The app enhances the encoding of biological memory by increasing attention to and integrating daily events more clearly.

Source: University of Toronto

Researchers at the University of Toronto have shown that a new smartphone app helps to significantly improve memory recall, which could be useful for individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of memory impairment.

Dubbed the HippoCamera for its ability to simulate the function of the brain’s hippocampus in building and retaining memory, the app enhances the encoding of stored memories in the brain by heightening attention to and integrating everyday events more vividly – thus enabling richer and more comprehensive retrieval later.

In a two-step process, HippoCamera users record a short 24-second video clip of the moment they want to remember along with a short eight-second audio description of the event.

The app combines the two components just as the hippocampus does in the brain, with an accelerated video component to mimic aspects of hippocampal function and facilitate efficient review.

Users then play back the signals produced by the HippoCamera at later times on a regular, structured basis to strengthen memory and enable detailed retrieval.

“We found that the memories accompanied by the HippoCamera signal were long-lasting, and it worked for everyone in the study—healthy older adults, those beginning to show cognitive decline and even one case with severe amnesia due to an acquired brain injury,” said study co-author Morgan Barinsey, who is Professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Texas, Canada Chair of Research in Cognitive Neuroscience.

“Several months after the first part of the study ended, and the participants had not yet seen their HippoCamera signals, they were able to recall these memories in rich detail.”

The study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesshows that regular users of the app were able to recall 50% more details about daily experiences that occurred six months earlier than if they had just recorded the events and never replayed them.

The new research suggests that the systematic reactivation of memories of recent, real-world experiences could help maintain a bridge between the present and the past in older adults, and holds promise for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of memory impairment.

The study also found that reviewing memory cues with the HippoCamera resulted in more positive emotions during later recall.

“Something about being able to remember these events better made people feel closer to them and more positive,” said Parinsey, who leads the app’s development and is an assistant scientist at the Rotman Research Institute in Baycrest.

“This is a really important finding given what we know about dementia and the fact that positive memories or focusing on positive life events and positive emotions can improve memory and well-being in dementia.”

For the study, participants recorded unique HippoCamera clips of daily events they wanted to remember, then replayed those memory cues about eight times over a two-week period in one trial, and over a 10-week period in a second trial.

The researchers then started a characteristic retrieval task in which they showed the participants their memory cues and asked them to describe everything they could remember about each event.

This was followed by fMRI brain scan sessions in which the researchers measured patterns of brain activity while the participants viewed their cues and completed a memory test. Three months later, after not exercising their HippoCamera memories and being unable to access the cues, the participants were asked to recall these events a second time.

“On average, we observed a more than 50% increase in later recall in the amount of rich, detailed information someone was able to recall about events that happened 200 days ago, which is significant,” said Chris Martin, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. at Florida State University and lead author of the study.

“Memory is really self-sustaining—a strong memory signal can bring with it another memory, which can feed into another. You just have to focus on the signal in the first place.”

Brain scans showed that replaying HippoCamera memory signals altered the way these everyday experiences were encoded in the hippocampus, which has a well-established role in storing detailed memories of recent experiences.

The activity associated with hippocampal withdrawal was more distinct, which means that replaying the HippoCamera helps ensure that memories of different events remain separate from each other in the brain.

Credit: University of Toronto

“The more detailed memory seen earlier in the study was associated with more differentiated memory signals in the hippocampus,” Martin said.

The HippoCamera helps the hippocampus to encode memories clearly, so that they are not confused with one another, which explains why users are able to recall past events in such great detail.

“It is evidence that rich and detailed memory re-enactments enhance memory differentiation at the neural level, and this allows us to mentally re-experience the past in vivid detail.”

Researchers say that a key factor in the HippoCamera’s effectiveness is the sense of purpose and intent behind using it. By its very design, the intervention prompts users to think about what they want to remember and why a particular moment is important to them—and then to regularly re-engage with the memories in a meaningful way.

This application appears on the cell phone
With an easy-to-use interface, HippoCamera is a customized way to increase recall of everyday experiences and boost activity in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that plays a key role in memory. Credit: Dynamic Memory Solutions Inc.

“Someone who is committed to using the HippoCamera will go about their life paying attention to what is happening to them, asking themselves if this is an event they want to capture,” Parensi said.

“If that was the case, they would take the time to stop and describe the event. And this act of treating the events in our lives with more attention will be good for memory.

“Then later, there is the intention of how to study those memories, taking the time to review them using optimal learning techniques.”

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Researchers have observed that when people begin to lose their current memories at any point in their lives, as well as their ability to create new ones, they begin to lose their sense of self. As a result, they often become detached from people and events in their lives.

“Memory and our sense of identity are very closely intertwined,” said Barense, who is receiving support from UTEST, the UTEST startup accelerator, to take the app from lab to market.

“We understand who we are as people by remembering things we’ve done. Our hope with HippoCamera is that by helping people feel closer to these people and events in their lives, we can help them regain a sense of themselves.”

About this memory and neurotechnology research news

author: Jocelyn Johnston
Source: University of Toronto
Contact: Jocelyn Johnston – University of Toronto
picture: Image credit: Dynamic Memory Solutions Inc

Original search: open access.
A smartphone intervention that enhances real-world memory and enhances differentiation of hippocampal activity in older adultsBy Morgan Barense et al. PNAS


A smartphone intervention that enhances real-world memory and enhances differentiation of hippocampal activity in older adults

The act of remembering an everyday experience affects how we interpret the world, how we think about the future, and how we perceive ourselves. It also promotes long-term retention of recalled content, making it more likely to be recalled again.

Unfortunately, the ability to remember details about an event and re-experience the past tends to decline with age. This decrease in recall may reflect a corresponding decrease in discrimination of hippocampal memory representations.

Despite these well-established changes, there are few effective cognitive-behavioral interventions targeting episodic memory in the real world.

We addressed this gap by developing a smartphone-based application called HippoCamera that allows participants to record labeled videos of daily events and play back high-resolution autonomic memory signals at a later time. In two trials, we found that older adults were easily able to integrate this non-invasive intervention into their daily lives.

Using the HippoCamera to repeatedly reactivate memories of real-world events improved episodic recall and elicited more positive autobiographical feelings at the time of retrieval.

In both trials, these benefits were seen soon after the intervention and again after a delay of 3 months. Moreover, more detailed memories were associated with more differentiated memory signals in the hippocampus.

Thus, using this smartphone app to systematically reactivate memories of recent real-world experiences can help maintain a bridge between the present and the past in older adults.

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