Memory loss can be incredibly difficult for people who are aging along with those with whom they’ve made the memories. Swedish biomechanical engineer and inventor Anne-Christine Hertz developed a new way to help people with Alzheimer's and dementia revisit memorable places from their past while getting in some exercise to boot. She began to create the BikeAround concept in 2010 and it has now evolved into a functioning memory-travel system.
While developing Alzheimer’s and dementia treatments at Health Technology Center in Halland, Sweden, Hertz decided to try to help patients with memory loss connect to their pasts and stay physically active at the same time. BikeAround is essentially made up of a stationary bike and a screen that shows the bike traveling through a neighborhood. Hertz used Google Street View when developing the system. Users are able to enter an address of personal import, such as where they grew up, went to school or were married, and then ride and steer the bike through the nearby neighborhood. She writes for the Google blog, where she was featured for the innovative use of their tech:
Our strongest memories are tied inexorably to location … BikeAround taps into this idea by combining mental and physical stimulation—surrounding the patient with places they recognize through the Street View images, and then having them pedal and steer through them. Scientists think this kind of pairing produces dopamine in the brain and has the potential to affect memory management in a profound way.
Hertz says Lars Jonsson, who is 75 years old, and his wife Ingrid trialed and benefited from BikeAround early on. Lars has dementia. She says Lars’ face “flickered with happiness” and Ingrid's expression was “heartwarming” when he virtually rode the bike through the neighborhood around the church where they were wed. Hertz says many patients don’t want to get off the bike once they give it a try.
Alzheimer’s is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. There are about 5.7 million Americans living with this condition, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
The BikeAround site states the program is appropriate for people with cognitive, physical or memory-related disabilities and challenges. According to the site, the system is now available in two modes: BikeAround Screen Package Deal and the BikeAround jDome Package Deal. The first offers a computer and touchpad, pedal unit and control unit, carpet, StreetViz software, and an internet cable. The second offers all of these elements along with a projector, projector holder, transport case and jDome with stand -- a dome-shaped screen that offers a more immersive experience to the biker. Swedish computer gamer and technologist John Nilsson invented the dome.
"We wanted a screen that had a three-dimensional experience that you could feel like you were there,” Hertz says of adopting the jDome. “Somebody in our network had been to a technology fair in Stockholm [and] seen John's screen and was really excited about it, so we bought one to use as our prototype,” she adds.