Researchers at MIT are making strides in the understanding of Alzheimer’s early stages. Alzheimer’s patients normally have an unreliable short-term memory and will often be unable to remember recent memories. However, recent studies at MIT are telling us that these memories are still stored in the brain; they just are not as accessible as we would like them to be.
MIT neurologists conducted experiments on mice in the early stages of Alzheimer’s can develop new memories just as well as normal mice can but cannot hold onto them in the same way that normal mice can. There is a deficiency in how mice with Alzheimer’s can recall recent memories.
However, using a technique called optogenetics, researchers were able to artificially stimulate those recent memories. “Although optogenetics cannot currently be used in humans, the findings raise the possibility of developing future treatments that might reverse some of the memory loss seen in early-stage Alzheimer’s,” researchers say. This hopeful news means that recent memories in Alzheimer’s patients are not lost and can be retrieved with a little help from neurologists.
Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience and senior author of the study at MIT says, “Our findings suggest that Alzheimer’s disease patients, at least in their early stages, may also keep memories in their brains, which means there may be a possibility for a cure.” This piece of good news that although the memories may seem like they are not there, there may now be a way to retrieve it.
The hope for the Alzheimer’s Cure lies in the brain’s hippocampus, the ridges on the bottom of brain’s lateral ventricle, which is thought to be the center of emotion, memory, and the automatic nervous system. The hippocampus stores specific memories of the brain and researchers have shown that they can manipulate traces of memories (engrams) to activate past emotions, instill false memories, and alter the emotions associated with those memories.
An investigation was done with mice with retrograde amnesia, a loss of memory-access to events and experiences occurred before the onset of a disease. Mice with the disease and normal mice were placed into a foot shock. All the mice showed fear when placed in the foot shock an hour later. However, when the mice were placed in the foot shock a few days later, only the normal mice showed fear and the mice with the disease did not appear to remember their fear of the foot shock. This experiment showed that while short-term memory seems to be normal, long-term memory in Alzheimer mice seems to be impaired.
While the plethora of tests and experiments that are being performed in hopes of a cure for Alzheimer are occurring, a 12-year-old Chinese girl created an app that can help Alzheimer’s patients keep track of their things.
Emma Yang is a young girl from China who had a frustrating time communicating with her grandmother in Hong Kong from her own home in New York. When Yang’s grandmother forgot Yang’s and her father’s birthdays, Yang had the idea of creating an app that could help Alzheimer’s patients keep track of events, faces, and dates.
The app is called ‘Timeless’ and it is the first app designed specially for Alzheimer’s patients. The app has a myriad of useful and unique features, including a facial recognition that can assign names and relationships to pictures of family. In addition, there is a section called “Today” focused on giving the date, weather, time, and the events for that day. Finally, it can let Alzheimer sufferers know if they have already contacted someone within the last five minutes.
With her highly innovative and strikingly useful app, Yang’s hopes are to allow technology to do what humans are unable of doing. “The potential for technology to be able to help my grandmother, and others suffering from Alzheimer’s along the way, is what inspired me to create Timeless,” says Yang. The app is also designed specifically to help patients with their short-term memory loss, which is why the “Today” section is part of the app.
Yang recently received the “Ten Under Twenty” innovation award at the 2016 CE Week conference and is still in the developmental parts of the app. She hopes she can release it by the end of the year.