New smartphone app can strongly improve memory, study finds

Credit: Jonas Leupe / Unsplash.

In a study from the University of Toronto, scientists found that a new smartphone application called HippoCamera helps significantly improve memory recall.

This could prove beneficial for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of memory impairment.

The app enhances the encoding of memories stored in the brain by boosting attention to daily events and consolidating them more distinctly—thus later enabling more affluent, more comprehensive recall.

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

The app combines the two elements just as the brain’s hippocampus would, with the video component sped up to mimic aspects of hippocampal function and to facilitate efficient review.

Users then replay cues produced by HippoCamera at later times on a curated and regular basis to reinforce the memory and enable detailed recall.

The team found that memories with an associated HippoCamera cue were long-lasting and that it worked for everyone in the study—healthy older adults, those starting to show a cognitive decline, and even one case with severe amnesia due to an acquired brain injury.

The researchers found that regular users of the app were able to recall more than 50% more details about everyday experiences that took place as many as six months earlier than if they had only recorded events and never replayed them.

The research suggests that frequent reactivation of memories for recent real-world experiences can help to maintain a bridge between the present and 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 HippoCamera resulted in more positive sentiment during later retrieval.

The researchers say that one key factor in HippoCamera’s effectiveness is the sense of purpose and intention inherent in its use.

By its very design, the intervention prompts users to think about what it is that they want to remember and why a particular moment is important to them—and then regularly re-engage with the memories in a meaningful way.

The researchers note that as people begin to lose their existing memories at any point in their lives, as well as their ability to create new ones, they start to lose their sense of self.

As a result, they often become disengaged from the people and events in their lives.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and blueberry supplements may prevent cognitive decline.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and Omega-3s could improve brain structure and cognition.

The study was conducted by Morgan Barense et al and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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