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Imagine you had to select 10 to 20 ideas you would like to remember the longest.
What would they be? And is there some sort of mental locker,
a mental vault we can put them in?
So, when our memory crashes, is there a black box?
An interesting paradox about the memory
is that when we want to keep something in mind,
we do exactly the opposite: we put it out of the mind, by externalizing it.
For example, yesterday I received over 100 messages saying 'Happy Birthday!',
but these messages do no longer touch my heart as they used to.
Because the only thing it tells me
is that all my friends are using iPhones and Facebook to remember me.
But in us is the desire to be recognized and to be remembered.
Mutual recognition defines the difference
between talking to a loved one and talking to a stranger.
Now I'd like you to visualize the house you call home.
Walk around in it. Probably there are several rooms
and several objects related to persons you care about.
Make a scale model of it.
Now, this is a detailed scale model
of the house of my grandparents.
Let me show you what Alzheimer's does at the end stage.
This is what my research is about.
How can we slow down this impact?
Scientists estimate that over a 100 million people on this planet
are suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
And more than half of them aren't even aware of it.
People in the early phase of Alzheimer's disease
have particular sensitivity with the problem of retrieving proper names,
making it hard and difficult to recognize and remember their significant others.
Now I was wondering: if [we] are willing to carve the names of our loved ones
in the bark of a tree, can we do that to the bark of our brain?
A while ago, I was sitting in a large audience.
I was listening to a communications expert.
He was also a CEO of a large advertising company.
He said something that really hit me in the face.
Sometimes you have these moments that you absorb an idea.
He said, "The goal of our communication is to anchor or attach the message
in the long term memory of our consumers."
If you think about it, it's obvious:
you cannot buy a product you forgot the name of.
But I was thinking: can we use these techniques
to place something more valuable in the minds of others
rather than a redundant need or a useless brand name?
With this in mind, I went to some researchers
at the University of Nottingham.
They are specialized in quality of life and communication strategies regarding Alzheimer's.
They said to me, "It's about time individuals like you stand up
and tell a positive story in a negative world.
So they inspire me as a doctoral researcher
and they motivate me as a human being.
That's the reason why I stand here today.
One of the patients they took me [to],
was an old man, he was about 80 years old.
His wife was sitting next to him, covered in tears.
I gave him a picture of his daughter.
She was 30 when she died.
I asked the man, "If you look at this picture,
who is this woman, and what does she mean to you?"
With the most neutral face, he said to me,
"I had a walk this morning."
Can we change that? Can we do something about this?
Let me tell you about a woman I know.
She's about 50 and she lost her son during a car crash.
He crashed his car against a tree.
This tree is located on the road this woman had to drive
every day, from her home to her work.
Every time she passed the tree,
she was crying, because it reminded her of her son.
Now can we use this mechanism for something positive?
Can we use a positive emotion instead,
to make it easier for an early Alzheimer's
to recognize his significant others?
We believe so.
Because what this woman is actually doing, is building a memory palace,
or, as it is referred to, the method of loci.
It's a very simple mnemonic strategy.
I'd like to take you through it in 3 simple steps.
First, you have to select and memorize a series of distant loci or locations
along a familiar pathway.
In our case, the familiar pathway will be
the house the early Alzheimer's currently lives in.
In a second phase, you have to create interactive images along,
that represent the stimuli you would like to remember.
In a third and final phase, you place these interactive images
along the loci you selected in the first place.
Now, before I destroyed this scale model, I worked together with an architect
to work on a prototype of a memory palace in 3D,
in a virtual manner.
I'd like to share it with you today.
The ambition of our project is to enhance memory for familiar faces
for people in the early phase of Alzheimer's disease.
By that we hope to improve the quality of life,
not only for the patient but also for their significant others.
Most early Alzheimer's still live on their own.
Therefore, professional architects will use the construction plans
of the houses they currently live in to make virtual scale models,
resulting in an externalized and customized, tailor-made memory palace.
It's a recent trend to use virtual reality not only for computer games,
but also in health care.
I think that it's a good trend.
So let's have a look inside.
This is the house of my grandfather.
And these are the people he would like to remember,
his significant others. How can we do that?
But first, the most important insight of our project is not only to increase
the quality of life of the patient but also of the significant others.
Taking care of Alzheimer's is very depressing.
But investing in the mutual recognition
might counterbalance this.
So, first, professional trainers will use guided imagery
to help my grandfather –
generate interactive images along the familiar pathway.
Next, this information can be used by architects
to place digital family photos next to objects related to the name
of that particular person.
For instance, my grandmother's name is 'Julienne'.
Imagine my grandfather associating her name with the word 'julienne soup'
and therefore links her face and her name to the object of a soup bowl.
In our mind, we have different circuits to retrieve common names
and to retrieve proper names.
The second is mostly damaged by early Alzheimer's.
A possible reason for this might be that proper names,
like Frank, or Tom, or whatever, are very arbitrary and meaningless.
What we are doing, is actually adding color, meaning and emotion to it,
to make it more memorable.
Further, imagine that my grandfather
associates the name of my youngest cousin, Lambert, to the object of a lamp.
Notice how the lamp is standing in the seat, instead of next to it,
because we know that the stranger the images are,
the stickier it is for the mind.
So we are breaking routine.
OK, what we have done for one room, you can do for the next.
And what you can do for one floor, you can do for the next floor.
So, we expect this virtual scale model to be a convenient instrument,
enhancing the mental walk of early Alzheimer's
and allowing to practice it independently,
resulting in an increased [quality of] life,
not only for themselves, but also for their significant others.
So, what we expect is a positive impact
on the activities of daily living, on independence, on quality of life
and, ultimately, reduced cost for society.
So, to come back to our scale model we have right here,
what I'm saying is not that we can avoid the impact,
but what we can do, is slow down the impact.
So, if there is anything positive about Alzheimer's disease,
it is probably the fact that it offers us the moral obligation to review our priorities.
What's really important in life, is other people
and the ability to recognize and remember them.
So, I want to make sure that you don't have to walk like this before you realize that.
Today, you can start by adding emotion and color to your life.
You can start by breaking routine and old habits, and making sure
that every experience is unforgettable.
Thank you for inspiring me. I hope I did the same for you.