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The Hands-On Future That Could End Alzheimer’s

Neo Mohsenvand from MIT Media Lab creates Mnemo to record memories

Quartz

As we grow older, we try to preserve the exciting, precious and irreplaceable memories, either via Instagram, Facebook, or the long unappreciated form, print. We do this because we never want to forget. The future is arbitrary; we must be cognizant that nothing will last. We undervalue these significant memories and forget how something like Alzheimer’s can take them away in an instant. Now I’m not proposing we strap cellphones to our chest and walk around, but what if it was for science?

Bringing Back Lost Memories

Box of old photographs
Box of old photographs

We’ve all heard of the term, Alzheimer’s, but what does it mean? And what’s the difference between that and dementia? There are numerous films and tv shows that touch on the topic. For many, this takes a personal toll. Many have grandparents, or mothers, sisters, brothers affected. Dementia is “an overall term used to describe symptoms that impact memory, performance of daily activities, and communication abilities,” the Health line clarifies. Two popular films that tackle this are The Notebook, directed by Nick Cassavetes, and Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, directed by Michel Gondry.

Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind demonstrates the compelling notion that one can erase a specific memory from the brain. Of course, this is just fantasy, but what if instead of erasing your memories, you could bring back memories taken from you?

Scholar and visionary Neo Mohsenvand set out to do just that. His accolades include: undergraduate degrees in Electrical and Biomedical Engineering, a Master’s degree in Mathematical Modeling and Scientific Computing, and is now currently working on his Ph.D. at MIT Media Lab. Neo is the creator of Mnemo, an integrated system to support human biographical memory.

What is Memory?

Image concept of neurons from the human brain.
Image concept of neurons from the human brain.

To better understand how his project can help in the future, we first must understand what a memory actually is. Memory is our “ability to encode, store, retain and subsequently recall information and past experiences in the human brain.”

In neurological terms, memory is a set of encoded neural connections in the brain. It is the recreation or reconstruction of past experiences by the synchronous firing of neurons that were involved in the original experiences. During learning, neurons that fire together to produce a particular experience are altered so that they have a tendency to fire together again.

Elderly woman looking at wedding photograph
Elderly woman looking at wedding photograph

In order to form memories, information must be changed to a usable form, which occurs through the process known as encoding. Once information has been successfully encoded, it must be stored in memory. There are three stages of memory: Sensory, Short Term and Long Term.

Sensory memory is a fraction of a second. Short Term (STM), is less than a minute and Long Term (LTM), is a lifetime. When memory fails, the brain has failed to retrieve information from the LTM. Research has shown that one of the critical factors that influence memory failure is time.

Can Mnemo Help With Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

Neo Mohsenvand wearing Mnemo cap
Neo Mohsenvand wearing Mnemo cap. Photo courtesy of Quartz

Dementia probability increases by 10-15% who are diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Current evidence indicates that MCI often, but not always, develops from a lesser degree of the same types of brain changes seen in Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

Brain-imaging studies show that the following changes may be associated with MCI: Shrinkage of the hippocampus [where memory is stored], enlargement of the brain’s fluid-filled spaces (ventricles), or reduced use of glucose (sugar that’s the primary source of energy for cells, in the key brain regions).

Mnemo is directed to serve people with impaired memory by providing ways to benefit from large amounts of personal data. Mohsenvand’s mission is to record his heart rate, hoping to capture and pinpoint the moment he experiences an emotion. He goes about his daily grind wearing a Pixel 2 smartphone on his chest, as well as a complete electrode-covered neoprene EEG cap on his head. Function over fashion, all meant to gather useful data. After caring for his grandmother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, Mohsenvand set out to help patients, with the goal of creating a virtual-reality realm of memories that aren’t permanently forgotten.

What are your thoughts on how Mnemo can help with memory loss? Let us know down in the comments.

Sylvia Valdez
Sylvia valdez is a writer and photographer. After graduating with a BA in television, film and media studies, from California State University- Los Angeles, she has participated in the Spirit Awards Festivals. Her working experience includes reporting, photographing and Script Development Reading. She continues to write and photograph while raising awareness about mental health.

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