The use of technologies to record and reproduce short but rich “signals” of everyday life can enhance the ability of the elderly (and not only) to relive the past
In the episode «Dangerous memories» of the successful TV series «Black Mirror» a device called “grain” implanted in the neck of the protagonists records everything that is done, seen or heard. The device then allows the memories to be played back in front of the owner’s eyes or on a screen. However, the results of these “perennial” memories (and which can be rewound at any moment) are deleterious. Fortunately, the app designed to help improve memory developed by a team of researchers, coordinated by Chris Martinprofessor of Psychology at Florida State University, the subject of a study published in Pnas.
How does it work
What is it about? «The app allows participants to record tagged videos of daily events and later play them back, as cues of high fidelity autobiographical memory», explain the authors. Basically, by accessing the app and following a guided procedure, the elderly person records an 8-second voice note with the description of an event. Then it films the event itself (lasting 24 seconds) which the app catalogs and stores. Subsequently the person undergoes an exercise session, which contains five events at most.
Relive recorded episodes
The app brings them back to life through audio and video but at tripled speed
. The choice of speed is not accidental: «The video is reproduced at a speed of 8 seconds (24 seconds at speed 3), a design choice that allows you to review it effectively and was inspired by temporally compressed nature of the endogenous reproduction that takes place in the hippocampus,” write the researchers. The hippocampus is an important anatomical structure of the brain, shaped like a seahorse, at the basis of memory processes. In particular, the app created for the study is inspired precisely by the function of the hippocampus and designed for improve episodic recall of real-world events in the elderly. Unfortunately, the ability to recall specific details of an event and relive the past tends to decline with age.
«The trajectory of this decline has been linked to corresponding reductions in the structural and functional integrity of the hippocampus, which supports tagging and retrieving event-specific details from recent experiences. Although memory decline is common in aging and significantly worsens quality of life, very few therapies specifically target autobiographical episodic memory,’ Professor Martin points out.
The results: Improved episodic recall
The app was then “tested” on two different groups of people. The first interesting discovery was that the elderly were able to use it without much difficulty. Furthermore «the episodic recall of daily experiences has improved and with it a more positive autobiographical feeling towards recovery. In both experiments, these benefits were seen shortly after the intervention and again after a 3-month delay.” The subjects also underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging. Result? Researchers have seen that the repeated reproduction of “snippets” of memory contained in recorded videos also induces positive effects on the structure of the hippocampus.
A useful tool
A “particularly important” demonstration according to the professor Marco Trabucchi, president of the Italian Association of Psychogeriatrics, who adds: «The problem of loneliness and lack of social life afflicts many elderly people; even after the Covid-19, many have rarefied contacts with the real world, consequently risking worsen their independence on the somatic level and above all on the cognitive one. In these cases, appropriate use of the smartphone represents a defence, because it allows connections both with real life and with any specific activation programs».
Seniors need contacts
«We are moving towards a world of the elderly who will increasingly need contacts; it will be the task of our social organization to know how to activate the maximum of interpersonal relationships, together with appropriate technological supports, to offer quantitatively and qualitatively adequate answers to a life of the elderly that is not dominated by abandonment and loss» notes Professor Trabucchi. «This study demonstrates the potential of an intervention that is easy to implement. Using this application to systematically reactivate memories of recent real-world experiences can help maintain a bridge between the present and the past in the elderly», conclude the authors.
March 25, 2023 (change March 25, 2023 | 07:33)
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