older woman with camera in front of face

Who would have thought that a lifestyle product for social media savvy millennials would also be a true blessing for older people living with memory problems? And yet, that accurately describes how wearable cameras have improved day-to-day life for some seniors with dementia.

An Accident, a Bicycle, and a Promising Invention

The roots of today’s lifelogging craze can be traced back nearly two decades. Microsoft Research Cambridge’s Lindsay Williams created the “SenseCam,” a digital camera that attached to her bicycle and took pictures of sloppy drivers each time she pumped hard on her brakes. Williams had suffered memory loss following a hit and run accident as a teen and she thought the device might help others avoid her fate.

Later, Microsoft Research Cambridge adopted SenseCam technology to develop a memory “recall device.” This device aimed to help people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers remember the highlights of their day. Researchers at a nearby memory clinic tested the approach to see if it might work for their patients. In one study, a librarian in her 60s with amnesia used SenseCam images to remember some 80% of events that had happened two weeks earlier. What’s more, her memories of the events continued for several months.

Wearable Cameras vs Traditional Memory Training Programs for Dementia

Traditional memory training programs work to stimulate the memory of people with dementia. Common techniques include keeping a personal written diary. But now, cutting-edge technology for seniors appears to be on the verge of transforming memory training. New video technology empowers caregivers to take an active role in care.

In a study by the University of Coimbra in Portugal, a SenseCam wearable camera went head-to-head with a written diary. Alzheimer’s patients using the SenseCam showed better autobiographical memory performance than with the traditional method. Researchers conclude that passive memory training with SenseCam is a promising alternative to traditional memory training programs.

Why do Wearable Cameras Help With Memory?

Catherine Loveday is a cognitive psychologist at the University of Westminster. She thinks SenseCam images boost recall due to their similarity to looking at snapshots. “We think viewing the images in sequence triggers activity in the same brain circuits that were triggered when you first experienced the events and that by doing so repeatedly you can prod the memory into consciousness.”

According to parent company Microsoft, viewing SenseCam images boosts a patient’s episodic memory recall. Unlike posing for a snapshot, SenseCam images are recorded naturally. The sheer number of images also seems to positively impact the degree of recall.

man taking photo of woman

Top 5 Wearable Cameras

Wearable cameras vary widely in features, image quality and price. Here are five popular models.

  1. GoPro HERO6 Black Wearable Camera
    • Great video and photo quality.
    • Easy smartphone integration.
    • First-rate selection of mounts and accessories.
    • Waterproof.
    • Captures stills and video.
  2. MeCam Classic Wearable Camera
    • Very small and lightweight.
    • Pins on your shirt or wear as a necklace.
    • Captures stills and video.
  3. iON SnapCam Lite Wearable Camera
    • A mere 1.5 inches in length.
    • Weighs one ounce.
    • Attaches to clothes.
    • Captures stills and video.
  4. FrontRow FR Wearable Lifestyle Camera
    • Works off smartphone data connection.
    • Attach to clothes with lanyard or clip.
    • Captures stills and video.

Tips for Using a Wearable Camera

Wearable lifelogging cameras provide a hands-free alternative to laptop webcams. Wear them at head or chest level to capture as much of your loved one’s activities as unobtrusively as possible. They can go where you go without getting in the way, allowing caregivers to capture life’s important moments instantaneously.

At the end of each day, download the wearable camera images to a computer. Then you can sit with your loved one and review the highlights of the day together. It’s similar to sharing photos and memories of a favourite vacation. Treat it like a special occasion! Looking at the photos or videos can promote more effective communication during late-stage dementia.

Improving Memory for Those With Dementia

Watching a loved one’s memory slip away is among the most agonising aspects of being a family caregiver. A big part of the caregiver’s emotional pain is feeling unable to help in a meaningful way.

Passive memory training with a wearable camera lets caregivers be more proactive. This could be an important missing piece in the often puzzling lives of our loved ones with dementia. Consider making it part of your daily caregiving routine and see what happens.