December 15, 2021
Baycrest is pleased to welcome Dr. Morgan Barense as the new Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Chair in Neuropsychology, a joint position at Baycrest and the University of Toronto. A leading neuroscientist in the field of aging and brain health, Dr. Barense’s work is helping older adults better remember the events of their lives.
“Memory is one of the most remarkable feats of the human mind,” says Dr. Barense, Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, Senior Scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI), Director of the Toronto Neuroimaging Facility and Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. “I want to understand how the brain supports memory, and how we can leverage that knowledge to support older adults.”
Until recently in her career, Dr. Barense focused on fundamental questions concerning neuroscience and memory. For instance, what parts of the brain support different aspects of memory function, and how do those parts of the brain communicate with each other?
Says Dr. Barense, “In trying to answer those questions, I learned so much from working with patients who had memory disorders such as dementia – about memory, but also about the humanity that persists when memory is impaired. I wanted to use the wealth of knowledge we have in the field of neuroscience to develop practical solutions to help these people. I aim to pursue this goal further in my role as the Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Chair in Neuropsychology.”
With support from the Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation, powered by Baycrest, and others, Dr. Barense and her colleagues already have created a smartphone-based app to boost everyday memory in individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. This novel digital memory aid, called the HippoCamera, is designed to mimic memory encoding and retrieval performed by the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is critical in supporting our memories.
Designed for older adults, the app is easy to use and has only two buttons: record and replay. First, the record function targets memory encoding – that is, what happens in the hippocampus when we first experience an event and “learn” a memory. To optimize users’ memory encoding, the app guides them through a multi-step process of capturing a memory. This includes recording a short video as well as a verbal description of the event.
Second, the HippoCamera’s replay function helps users “study” their memories. The app creates powerful eight-second memory cues using speeded-up videos and verbal descriptions captured by the user. The user replays these cues following a neuroscience-backed schedule based on the optimal times of day for the brain to learn. A replay session combines five, eight-second memory cues.
Early research results demonstrate that when users capture one memory per day and replay their memory cues once per day using the HippoCamera, they remember close to 50 per cent more details from events.
“There are apps available to help with functional memory – for example, to remind users to take their medicine. However, there is little technology aimed at optimizing our memory for everyday events. The HippoCamera addresses this gap,” says Dr. Barense.
While much of their work has been done with healthy older adults, Dr. Barense and her team are now building partnerships with residential living facilities to test the HippoCamera with residents of these facilities. They have also developed a program to train caregivers in residential living facilities to use the app with the residents for whom they care.
“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Barense, whose work will further our understanding of how the brain supports memory and ways to apply this critical knowledge to help older adults make the most out of life,” says Dr. Allison Sekuler, Vice-President, Research and the Sandra A. Rotman Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience at Baycrest. “We thank Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman for generously supporting this position to advance our knowledge of the effects of aging on cognitive functioning. We also thank Dr. Morris Moscovitch, CM, founding Senior Scientist at the RRI, who previously held this Chair. Dr. Moscovitch is known for his groundbreaking research in memory and his critical contributions to the fields of clinical neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience.”
Baycrest is a global leader in research, innovation, education and care for older adults, with a special focus on brain health and aging. Baycrest is home to a robust research and innovation network, including one of the world’s top research institutes in cognitive neuroscience, the Rotman Research Institute; the scientific headquarters of the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging, Canada’s largest national dementia research initiative; and the Baycrest-powered Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation, a solution accelerator focused on driving innovation in the aging and brain health sector. Baycrest helps aging adults assess, monitor, maintain and enhance cognition through an innovative portfolio of evidence-based products and services offered through its brain health company, Cogniciti.
Fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, Baycrest provides excellent care for older adults combined with an extensive clinical training program for the next generation of healthcare professionals. Through these initiatives, Baycrest has remained at the forefront of the fight to defeat dementia as the organization works to help individuals fear no age and create a world where every older adult enjoys a life of purpose, inspiration and fulfilment. Founded in 1918 as the Toronto Jewish Old Folks Home, Baycrest continues to embrace the long-standing tradition of all great Jewish healthcare institutions to improve the well-being of people in their local communities and around the globe. For more information about Baycrest, visit baycrest.org or visit FearNoAge.com for more information about our brand.
About Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute
The Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest is a premier international centre for the study of human brain function. Through generous support from private donors and funding agencies, the institute is helping to illuminate the causes of cognitive decline in seniors, identify promising approaches to treatment and lifestyle practices that will protect brain health longer in the lifespan.