2 minute read

Meet the researcher using Google Maps to help dementia patients

In 2007, Google sent out the first fleet of cars armed with cameras to map the world. Who could have guessed that a decade later, a researcher would use Street View technology to help dementia patients remember. But that’s exactly what biomechanical engineer Anne-Christine Hertz is doing.

Technology and the power of memory

Anne-Christine was trying to develop new methods to treat Alzheimer’s patients and those suffering from dementia. Specifically, she wanted to help them preserve old memories. Memory loss is one of the most traumatic side effects of dementia, both for patients and their loved ones.

To combat this, she built a prototype called BikeAround, which pairs a stationary bike with Google Street View to take dementia patients on a virtual ride down memory lane. Patients input a street address of a place that means something to them - a childhood home for instance - and then use the pedals and handlebars to “bike around” their old neighborhoods.

“We don’t know how many people are going to suffer from dementia in the future. But we can find new ways to change people’s lives.”

Why not just look through an old photo album?

Our strongest memories are intensely tied to location. It’s no coincidence that when you think about any big memory or past event, your first thought is often “Where was I when that happened?” BikeAround taps into this idea, by combining mental stimulation from surrounding the patient with places they recognize, and physical stimulation from pedaling and steering. Scientists think this pairing produces dopamine in the brain and has the potential to affect memory management in a profound way.

The road ahead

Anne-Christine’s BikeAround invention is an inspiring example of what happens when you make technology available for everyone. The device is now undergoing further scientific study with the goal to bring it to facilities around the globe and improve the lives of dementia patients, one bike ride at a time.

BikeAround is now available in a number of countries worldwide, including the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and Hong Kong. If you’re interested in learning more about BikeAround or would like to help a loved one try it out, sign up for a demo here.

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