How AI could help people with dementia piece together the past

'Synthetic memories' project uses artificial intelligence to help people reconnect and remember

Reviving lost memories in Alzheimer's Patients with groundbreaking AI

Reviving lost memories in Alzheimer's Patients with groundbreaking AI
Powered by automated translation

A pioneering new project that tries to recreate lost memories through artificial intelligence could offer hope to people diagnosed with dementia.

With the approach, demonstrated at the World Governments Summit on Wednesday, people with dementia are interviewed about their first memories or important moments in their lives, this is fed through artificial intelligence algorithms, and images and videos are then created of those episodes.

They are shown these images and videos, a process which, it is hoped, will trigger more memories and reconnect with what was blocked.

“They start saying … wow, yes, that was me or that was my mom, my house,” said Martina Nadal, chief operating officer for the Spanish company, Domestic Data Streamers, which is behind the project.

“Then they start remembering additional details like … my mom's hair was a bit like [this] or my house was a bit … different. And so they start building on top of the images and remembering more of the emotional story,” she told The National.

“Whenever families are there, they are also kind of memory triggers and they can give some input or say 'you always tell this story' or 'you always said that grandma'.”

Ms Nadal said that the process, known as synthetic memories, was still in the pilot phase but some people with a dementia diagnosis had responded well, were “absolutely connected and sharp” during the process and provided additional details afterwards to “really represent those pieces of their past”.

“You stimulate their neurons in a very emotional way that helps them connect the neurons that usually cannot connect because of the disease or dementia,” she said.

Dementia is one of the greatest health challenges of our generation, according to the World Health Organisation. It is thought 78 million people could be living with it by the end of the decade. It is the seventh leading cause of death in the world, the WHO says.

Ms Nadal said patients typically have a “very emotional reaction” to the treatment and remember more of the story of their lives.

“So whenever they can connect and remember who they are, where they are, what the context is, they can then follow, for example, carrying out instructions or medication,” she said.

“Now we are escalating the research with Google Arts and the Toronto University to see [what] is the real impact on the brain, [at] the neurological level.”

The approach also underlines how technology companies with no history in the medical sphere could have the potential to transform treatment. Ms Nadal said patients in nursing homes had participated in the trials. The company, she added, was keen to team up with medics and others around the world to scale it up and assess the long-term benefits for patients and if it could be used in a more widespread, systematic way.

“What we saw is that this can be used as a reminiscence therapy tool, which are the sort of therapies that stimulate the brain in a very emotional way so people can connect with memories that were kind of blocked,” she said.

It also has potential in cultural spheres and a test project was conducted in Brazil to talk to people who lived in a very diverse neighbourhood to share their stories of migration. This could prove useful with “invisible communities” in history to try to ensure memories were not lost, she said.

Ms Nadal, who said she had been talking to groups in Dubai about the project, said the company was planning to open a “public office” of memory reconstruction in Barcelona where any citizen would be able to go and “reconstruct their memories”.

The synthetic memories project was one of 13 pioneering advancements being shown at the Edge of Government innovation centre at the World Governments Summit.

The centre was overseen by the Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation and drew many visitors on the final day and was also visited by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai.

Turkey’s RoboRoyale project, which outlined how robotic bees could help ecosystems, and Spain’s life work balance project, in which Barcelona included time-use in the city’s policy agenda, won this year's Edge of Government award.

Updated: February 14, 2024, 3:12 PM