This week we celebrate Brain Awareness Week!
Brain Awareness Week is a global campaign to foster public enthusiasm and support for brain science. As a Brain Awareness Week Partner, evika.io wants to do our part to share the wonders of the brain and the impact brain science has on our everyday lives. Read on for a crash course on human memory followed by a list of 5 innovative products that can help overcome some of the real life barriers faced by people with memory challenges.
The brain is a complex but wonderful part of our anatomy. Not only is it the command centre for the central nervous system, but it houses one’s mind; the collection of thoughts and memories that underlie our unique personalities and make us who we are! When the brain is damaged, diseased or impaired it can result in a range of disabilities. With respect to memory, many of these brain-related conditions significantly impact the parts of the brain responsible for memory making and remembering. While most of us are familiar with the concept of memory and memories, the process by which we make and remember them is not as well known, so here it is in a nutshell.
Memory is the process by which we encode, store and recall information about the world around us. As humans, our ability to use memory to create complex language and self-awareness is what separates our brains from those of our animal counterparts.
Encoding is the way we receive sensory information to be put into memory. There are 3 types of encoding, semantic, visual and acoustic. Memories encoded in multiple ways tend to be easier to recall and are less susceptible to the effects of damage to the brain.
Storage is how we retain what we’ve encoded, and is also referred to as long-term memory. The storage of long term memories is a process and they must go through three distinct phases before landing there, sensory memory, short-term memory (STM) and finally long-term memory (LTM). Sensory memory lasts a couple of seconds, STM lasts around 20 seconds and LTM is permanent. Memories housed in LTM are divided into two types: implicit (procedural and emotional memories we are not conscious of) and explicit (facts and experiences we can recall). A third type of memory is working memory and it falls somewhere between STM and LTM. Working memory can act as a conduit for transitioning STM to LTM by creating new brain pathways between the two.
Retrieval is how we get our memories out of LTM and back into consciousness. There are 3 ways to retrieve memories: recall, recognition and relearning. Recall is accessing memories without cues; recognition is comparing something you’re currently encountering with something experienced before; and relearning is retrieving information faster when learning it a second time.
A disruption to any part of the memory process can impact daily function and one’ ability to engage in the activities that make life enjoyable. In Canada, over 3 million people live with neurological conditions including those with dementia, stroke, traumatic brain injuries, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, major depression, brain cancer or other cancers that have metastasized to the brain. So chances are you, or someone you love, will be impacted by memory challenges over the course of your lifetime.
As our understanding of the brain, memory and memory challenges evolves, so does our ability to create technologies and devices to address some of the barriers faced by those living with memory issues. Recent advancements in technology have allowed companies to generate a range of intuitive and inexpensive products designed to improve function and make life a little more enjoyable for people living with memory issues and those who care for them.
See below for 5 innovative and exciting products that help individuals with memory challenges
1. MedQ Daily Pill Box
The MedQ Pill Box is a medication reminder and organizer system. It has 10 pill box containers and can be set to remind you to take your medications once or twice a day. The pill box has flashing visual pill reminder alarms that flash directly on the pill container that needs to be taken as well as a beeping audio medication reminder. This product is an excellent tool for medication management for individuals with memory challenges as it not only helps organize your medication but prompts you to take them appropriately.
Tile is an innovative product line and phone based app that aspires “to create a world where everyone can find everything that matters”. Promoting itself as the “world’s largest lost and found community”, Tile offers a range of bluetooth trackers that can be attached to almost anything you want to keep track of. You can use the Tile app on your phone to “ring your things”, to find items within earshot that are attached to the tracker. Alternatively, you can double press the button on the tracker to find your phone by making it ring (even if it’s set to silent). When you’re far away from an item attached to the tracker, you can use the app on your phone to see on a map the last place it was updated. And for truly lost items, you can activate a “notify when found” feature, so anyone with a Tile app can anonymously contact you if they find your item. Tile is perfect for anyone who struggles with misplacing important items like wallets, keys, comfort items, and even clothing.
A selection of Tiles helps you find different kinds of gear. You can use the small Sticker for your remote, the powerful Pro or versatile Mate for keys and backpacks, and the slender Slim for wallets and laptops. Attach them and use our free app to keep track of all your stuff.
3. Talking Photo Albums
Talking Products’ Talking Photo Album Deluxe is a 20 page ‘flip style’ recordable album and a great way to bring memories to life. You can record up to 2 hours of speech, music or sound effects to enhance your photographs or cue memory retrieval for people who struggle to remember faces and places. Since auditory memory is often more protected from the wrath of dementia and other memory disorders, the familiar voices, music and/or sounds recorded with each picture can help prompt stories and start conversations with people who would otherwise struggle to remember and engage. The Talking Photo Album Deluxe includes a record-pause-record feature for each page and can be re-recorded as many times as you wish. Each page has an easy-to-use individual play/pause button and the album has an earphone socket and built-in speaker with volume control so it can be enjoyed privately regardless of the setting.
Talking Photo Albums will bring your memories to life. Insert your photos into the clear wallets and then record a separate message on each page. Record speech, music or sound effects to enhance your photographs with the power of sound. Every photograph has a soundtrack. Familiar voices describing a scene, the music and atmosphere from a wedding, or the sound effects from a special event. Sound brings time from the past back into the present. This unique album will always prompt a story and start wonderful conversations.
IFTTT is short for If This Then That, and is a free platform that helps all your products and services (apps and devices) work better (and smarter) together. You do this by creating applets. Applets are like mini, active apps you can create, so things your apps can’t do on their own. For example it can sync your Amazon Alexa to-dos with your Google Calendar. Or your Google Calendar with your Smart Home devices, like your Nest thermostat, home security cameras and even front hall lights. When creating an applet you identify an “If This*” trigger like *leave house and then select a “Then That*” service, like *text “SOS Mom left house” to Linda. So when set up for a mom with dementia, If she leaves her house with her cellphone, or other bluetooth tracking device her daughter Linda will be texted right away with an SOS message. You could also create applets that automatically trigger your hall lights to turn on at 9pm so you don’t need to find the switch if up in the night; or your ringer on your phone to turn up to max volume at 6am so you don’t miss a morning alarm. The basic platform is free and allows you to create up to 3 applets. However you can pay for an IFTTT Pro subscription for unlimited applet creation and the ability to apply filters to applets, so perhaps your phone volume only turns up to max at 6am on weekdays. IFTTT is a cutting edge platform that can benefit people of all abilities but can greatly improve the independence and engagement of individuals living with memory issues.
Watchminder is a vibrating, silent alarm and reminder system that can be worn and used by people with memory challenges with minimal disruption to the user or others around them. It can be programmed to set up vibrating reminders throughout one’s day. In addition to set reminders, it can be concurrently programmed to discreetly cue the user on set time intervals. For example for people living with dementia and incontinence it could prompt them with “Bathroom” every hour. The Watchminder is a sports watch suitable for all wrist sizes and can be worn by children, teens and adults. It is also waterproof and has a rechargeable battery. It is a simple and easy-to-use piece of technology that can provide gentle cueing for individuals who would otherwise struggle to remember important everyday actions.
These are just 5 of the hundreds of memory aids available for people living with memory challenges. Click over to evika.io to learn more about these great products and other assistive devices that can help you or a loved one engage fully with life.
We hope you learned a bit about the fascinating workings of the brain and more specifically human memory. There are scientists who dedicate their entire careers to the research and study of memory and memory disorders. To learn more about the brain and all the amazing things it can do check out the Brain Awareness Week Website and/or The Dana Foundation’s Share Science Page.
The WatchMinder is a simple wristwatch that can easily be programmed to set up discreet vibrating reminders throughout one’s day. Invented by a child psychologist, the WatchMinder was designed to aid children and adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (AD/HD) and others with special needs in staying focused, managing their time, and modifying their thoughts and behaviors.