Every four seconds, someone is diagnosed with dementia, according to the World Health Organization. Dementia—including Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injuries—affected about 47.5 million people worldwide in 2015, the WHO says.
Biomechanical engineer Anne-Christine Hertz is trying to help. She developed BikeAround, a stationary bicycle connected to a monitor or projector that displays Google Street View. The system allows users to navigate familiar neighborhoods such as the one where they grew up. The goal is to help people with dementia regain memory.
Hertz, a manager at the Centre for Health Technology of Halmstad, Sweden, partnered with Camanio Care, a company developing robotics and assistive aids for health care. Camanio Care helped design the technology.
While the patient watches the screen, he is also pedaling and steering to navigate the streets. The system provides users with mental and physical stimulation, which scientists say causes a release of dopamine in the brain. The dopamine might help patients regain memory, according to a Google news release about the product.
HOW IT WORKS
BikeAround users enter a street address of a childhood home or a town on the bike’s monitor. They then take a virtual ride down memory lane by watching the screen (no headset necessary), navigating their bike as if they were riding around the neighborhood. Hertz says she wants to jog users’ memories of what occurred while they were at a specific location.
“We wanted it [BikeAround] to be as realistic as possible,” she says. “When you sit down, you should feel that you are there.”
Bengt Ivarsson is an 82-year-old resident of Tibro, Sweden. His wife, Laila, says he has trouble remembering important dates, such as birthdays and anniversaries, and specific details about their past together. She understands that his dementia is likely to get worse, she says. The Ivarssons’ senior center is testing BikeAround for people diagnosed with dementia.
In the video below, Bengt Ivarsson tries out the system for the first time. He points to a building in his hometown on the screen and remembers it was where he first saw his future wife. The specific memory triggers emotion in Ivarsson, and he says he can remember the moment like it was yesterday.
Research is being done to analyze how BikeAround impacts memory.
Camanio Care currently has distributors in Europe and Asia and hopes to make the system available worldwide within a few years.