Matt Lee, Dey's student and developer of the MemeXerciser, is working on another system that relies on sensors embedded in everyday devices that could provide early warning of cognitive decline. Sensors in a pill box, for instance, monitor whether a person is taking the right medicine at the right time. Lee has outfitted a coffeemaker with sensors as well. "Before you actually reach a point you can't make a pot of coffee, the sensors in a smart coffeemaker can show you're starting to make more frequent mistakes," he says.
In some ways, the system mimics observations that a professional therapist might make. But someone first has to be suitably alarmed to call one in, after someone forgot to take his or her medication, for example. However, long-term data recorded by the MemeXerciser might reveal patterns too subtle to be noticed by a loved one, and treatment can start before a problem becomes advanced.
These intelligent systems aren't designed to replace the caregivers, spouses or family members of those with cognitive decline, but they may well help lighten the load, Lee says.
Betty Margolis admits constant questions from a forgetful spouse can be difficult. And not being able to share memories with her husband is painful. She says MemeXerciser and devices like it can't reach the market soon enough.
"This is a very helpful gadget — you can see it really works," she says. "I just wish we had it with us all the time."
Chris Carroll lives in Maryland.