A logbook of an individual with amnesia. The spouse
highlighted the tasks to indicate which ones she felt
Everyone participates equally by writing their schedules
onto a family calendar.
September + October 2008
A caregiver copies the appointments of her relative into
a second day planner and keeps it with her to know what
her relative is doing.
Memory-Link is a unique outpatient service offered
by Toronto-based Baycrest, a geriatric care center.
Memory-Link helps to assess, support, and train
the use of memory aids for adults with amnesia.
Although they may not be able to recall how, a
person with amnesia can acquire new skills (such
as riding a bicycle or playing a musical instrument) through painstaking repetition and practice.
This is because amnesia spares their procedural
A number of years ago, I began collaborating
with clinical researchers at Memory-Link to design
a new memory aid. While working closely with
amnesiac clients, I learned that from time to time
they completely forgot where they were, who they
were with, and what they intended to do. When
this happened in public places, it resulted in anxiety and panic—not only for those with the memory
problem but also for their family, who worried
that their relative would get lost. To address this,
I gathered a design team that included persons
with amnesia. We developed an orienting tool that
enabled users to instantaneously access key information to help them remember where they were
going and what they were doing [ 1]. This tool, like
many other external memory aids, was designed
for individual use. However, my experiences since
the orienting tool suggest that an individual focus
is not sufficient. Family members often play a crucial role in the day-to-day functioning of individuals with cognitive deficits.
There are a few memory aids that involve
caregivers (e.g., NeuroPage) [ 2], but they typically
facilitate the flow of important information in one
direction. Caregivers take on the role of inputting appointments, while persons with cognitive
impairments primarily act as recipients of such
information. A more powerful vision may be to
enable a bidirectional flow of information—also
allowing persons with cognitive impairments to
actively exchange information they find relevant
with their caregivers. Unfortunately, it is hard for
designers and practitioners to develop such tools,
because not much is known about how families
coping with cognitive impairments work together.
to Combat Memory Impairment
I teamed up with colleagues from my university to
carry out a field study of individuals with amnesia
and their families [ 3]. Through observing them in