New technologies boost aging brains

As we age, new high-tech gadgets such as smartphones can help keep our memory sharp and assist us in our daily activities.

In a recently published case study, Baycrest psychologists Drs. Eva Svoboda and Brian Richards show that even someone with severe memory impairment can learn how to use a smartphone to support memory and other brain functions

The study involved training a woman with severe amnesia, following the removal of a brain tumor, to use a smartphone to record appointments, shopping lists and other activities, and set alarms to remind her of what she had to do each day.

She was also taught to use the device’s camera to take photos of new people and places and make notes to remember them.

When one memory system is not working, another one can compensate
Teaching the study participant to use the device involved extensive instruction and repetition that tapped into memory systems not affected by her condition.

The hallmark of amnesia is impairment of episodic memory (memory for events specific to a time and place). Episodic memory may be the first to go in some types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease as well. Examples of events that require episodic memory are recalling where you left your keys or what appointments you have that day.

Procedural memory, such as remembering how to ride a bike or play a musical instrument, remains intact. “If you tap into that memory system, you can teach people new skills. The trick is repetitive training, providing lots of guidance to prevent errors and applying the new smartphone skills to real-life.” explains Dr. Svoboda.

It’s possible that smartphone training could eventually help people with early Alzheimer’s disease prolong their independent day-to-day functioning despite progressive decline in memory.

It’s never too early
“We’re encouraging people to use smartphones as their memory declines naturally with age,” says Dr. Svoboda

A smartphone is a great tool for keeping organized. Even if you are not noticing an obvious decline in memory, you can use the device as a calendar, phone book and camera. Teaching yourself something new or training yourself to use a new tool is a brain stimulant in itself.

Photo © Aldo Murillo

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