Technologies for Memory Overdrive!

Written by Dennis Kappen



Many technological devices use digital media to enable people to remember activities, incidents and past occurrences’. Personal memories from the past often at times, serve as foundation blocks for present day activities and can serve as influencers for the creation of future memories. Ones memory serves as a primary element which helps define ones identities, build relationships and foster conversational interactions with our peers.  The challenges with the fallibility of our memories pose the need for devices to assist with failing memory.

Reference Information

Crete-Nishihata, M., Baecker, R. M., Massimi, M., Ptak, D., Campigotto, R., Kaufman, L. D., … Black, E. (2012). Reconstructing the Past : Personal Memory Technologies Are Not Just for Memory. Human-Comuter Interaction, (June 2013), 37–41. doi:10.1080/07370024.2012.656062


The paper investigates the relevance of personal memory technologies from the vantage point of the needs of older adults with memory impairments. The authors review three studies that were conducted by them for persons with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). In the first study (12 participants) the authors worked with participants with AD and MCI and their families to develop DVD-based Multimedia Biographies. This digital media solution drew on the events, places and people from the participants past life. The authors engaged in a 6 month research inquiry to evaluate psychosocial effects of viewing these memory inspirations had on the participants and their family members. In the second study the authors designed a home-based ambient display that allowed a person with AD to review their past life and present life images documented using a SenseCam. The third study was directed towards determining the effects of the following types of data delivery from a SenseCam for 5 participants with MCI: raw image streaming, slide show with narration by a family member and a control group with no images at all.

The first study indicated that the images served as riggers for stimulating happiness and sadness while enabling their engagement in conversations with family members. The second study indicated the improvement in the participant’s sense of self and apathy. The third study helped indicate the episodic recall of personal events from images for a few participants.

The authors indicate that personal memory technologies should not only augment the user’s memory abilities, but also serve as a thread of connection fostering relationships between support groups clusters such as family members.


An important aspect of digital media technologies is the concept of lifelogging which comprises of the capture and storage of the user’s life experiences. The authors indicate that recording and storing daily life imagery is critical from the point of helping us reflect on our experiences and share life stories with others. The relevance of lifelogging technologies and digital storytelling on older adults provided the authors the opportunity to investigate the benefits of this technological advancement in supporting an entire lifetime of memories.

It was interesting to note that the authors recognized the power of interrelationships existing between the participants having AD and MCI and their immediate support groups comprising of partners, children siblings and care workers. The first study conducted by the authors explored the impact of their Multimedia Biographies on 12 persons with AD or MCI and studied the interpersonal relationships between the patients and their support groups. The second study studies the impact of these technologies on the identity of an individual. The third study with 5 individuals with AD and MCI was geared towards the evaluation of psychosocial effects of two SenseCam media conditions to represent an episode in the life of an individual and their partners.

The authors used diverse research methodologies including in-depth interviews, participant observations and psychological instruments for measuring constructs of memory, identity and emotional well-being.

The authors detailed related works in the sphere of digital memory technologies and gives a good in-depth literature review in the field of personal memory technologies and supporting cognitively impaired persons through life stories. However, the authors mention “Bush’s concept of supplementing human memory with the Menex” with no reference to corresponding literature. It would have been beneficial to the readers to have a reference for this statement.

This paper is a good resource for prior research done in the field of using technologies to improve the quality of life of older adults with AD and MCI. The personal memory technologies section takes the reader through the work of Gremmell et al., (2002), wearable computing technologies used by Steve Mann (2005) ; Microsoft SenseCam (2009) and the pervasiveness of digital media technologies. They discuss the differences between total capture lifelogging and situational capture lifelogging and argue the potential use of the SenseCam in serving as an autobiographical aid for patients with AD and MCI.

Life review (reminiscence therapy) section reviews the importance of this technique in improving the quality of life of cognitively impaired patients.  The authors argue that interventions with people or groups using familiar items from the past, helps to improve the quality and quantity of communication, enhancing the feeling of well-being of well-being and the importance of family legacy. The authors indicate that while work has been done on storytelling with lifelogging techniques, the use of this concept to support cognitively impaired persons have been limited.

Study 1: Multimedia Biographies (MB): This digital application was based on participatory design practices and was aimed to create a person’s life story based on assets such as home movies, photographs, music and narration.

Study Design Description Comments
Hypothesis Evaluate the effects of Multimedia Biographies (personal memory technologies) on participants and their partners.Reminiscence of past events, photos and videos would trigger positive and negative emotions. Categorization of a person’s life into acts or stages.
Participants 12 Participants had AD or MCI
Method Family members and caregivers were to show the MB to the participant once or twice a week and record reactions.After 3 months: film the participant viewing their MBAfter 3 months : Film again Video data was and analyzed using open coding methodologiesVerbal and non –verbal responses in video and interview data were codedCategories ad sub-categories were determined and compared to primary data sets for interview and video
Materials Video Recording, Final Cut Pro
Measures Qualitative measures: Video Data, Interview Data, Questionnaire Data (Berg, 1995; Creswell, 1998)
Findings MBs helped participants reminisce about their past with feelings and emotion Authors created their own set of guidelines (TAGlabs) for families interested in creating their own MBs

Study 2: Digital Life History: Impact of digital narratives on Identity; Combination of MBs with images captures by a SenseCam

Study Design Description Comments
Hypothesis Evaluate the impact of digital narratives (images) on self identity Using past images from MBs and present images using SenseCam
Participants 1 Participant had moderate AD
Method 3 psychological tests , one month apart to determine baseline, interim and final conditions  Baseline: no exposure to the process of creating digital life historyInterim: 4 weeks of participatory design to create digital life historyFinal: (Week 6) show final cut of the digital life history
Materials Photo images, SenseCam
Measures Measures for anxiety, depression, apathy, self-image, autobiographical memory, and general cognitive functioning and caregiver strain (Massimi et al., 2008)
Findings Results showed improvements in apathy and positive self-image both at the time of the interim and final evaluations.The authors challenge existing theories that while memory is a necessary condition for creating positive identity; SenseCam and other multimedia allow the participant to engage in identity supporting activities such as group reminiscence and conversation. No improvement was noted in measures of autobiographical memory, anxiety, depression, or general cognition.

Study 3: Raw Lifelogs versus Narrative Lifelogs: The athors compared the impact of raw lifelog data (SenseCam Reexperience) captured by SenseCam and narrative accounts of SenseCam data (SenseCam Remix)

Study Design Description Comments
Hypothesis Compare the impact of raw lifelog data (SenseCam Reexperience) captured by SenseCam and narrative accounts of SenseCam data (SenseCam Remix)Autobiographical Memory: Episodic: event based recallSemantic: memory based on facts about world and self. SenseCam Reexperience: unprocessed SenseCam images relayed at 2 fps in chronological order.SenseCam Remix: Selection of 24 SenseCam images edited and narrated by the participants partner (days events)
Participants 5 Participants with early AD or MCI
Method Participants wore SenseCam for 2 outings with a study partner. 3rd outing was a control condition with no SenseCam.Duration: 2-3 hrsVenues: museums, zoos, beach picnic areas  2.5 week evaluation period, interviewed 5 times using modified AI. (15 AI sessions/participant)Experiment duration: 3-4 month period.Authors created five stages of questioning: FreeRecall, General probe, Probed recall,SenseCam Review, No media (control condition)
Materials Photo images, SenseCam, image processing algorithims to group images , video player
Measures Focused on memory, psychosocial outcomes, and interactions with family; Autobiographical Interview (AI) formatStatistical assessment, ANOVA, within subjects. Comparison of control condition and AI assessment. (Levine et al.,2002)
Findings SenseCam images of personal events can support episodic recollection of the experiences over time .

In certain sections, the study design three was not well explained. In the initial section the authors explain that the participants were using the SenseCam on three outings, however, later on they mention that the third out was a control condition with no SenseCam. This was a bit confusing.  The authors also indicated in section 5 the need to compare between raw footage and narrative footage. However, in section 5.1 they mention two formats under consideration which is not clearly defined for the reader. The reference for the reader goes back to the two formats being raw footage versus narrative footage from the SenseCam. This section of the paper is also confusing because it does not indicate when the narrative footage (remix) was created.

Personally I need to read-up on line-by-line open coding of interview transcripts because I have yet to be involved in such an analysis. The SenseCam remix media combined participant and partner interpretations of an event based experience. If believe that the study three presents a very detailed analysis of qualitative and quantitative data from AI interviews. This presents a methodology to be used in determining the validity of qualitative data obtained using interviews and image data using SenseCam.


Watching images of past activities serves as triggers to re-experience and remember the specific experiences. These images also serve as conversational pieces with support care members, be it family members or support care workers. It serves as a common thread that helps to create bond between the older adults and their loved ones. These lifelogging digital media technologies more than enable impaired persons to share a closer bond with their families and experience a greater purpose of self image, confidence and an improved sense of well-being. The authors also present design implications for future work on personal memory technologies. They ask key questions relating to the user profile, the needs and capabilities of the user, selective needs fulfillment and maximizing the systems efficiency. While these questions are pertinent, it is also important to recognize the inter-relationship between the users and their support group. While we identify the needs of the users, it is also imperative to understand, recognize and design systems by integrating the needs of the support group. This would lead to an inclusive and participatory design system that maximizes the psychosocial needs of all stakeholders involved.

Image Credits:

Elderly woman with smile :