Microsoft is researching uses for its new camera, a thing they call SenseCam. You wear it like a badge, and it senses your surroundings, automatically snapping photos of what you see all day long. Then, you download the images to a computer and review your day. There really are good uses for such a thing, and I've written today's column for Small Town Newspaper about it.
When my father had Alzheimer's, he had trouble recognizing people he knew, and we could gauge the progression of his disease by which people he had lost in his head. If he couldn't remember the name of his neighbor, that was one thing, but when he couldn't remember our names or failed to recognize us as people he knew at all, that was something else entirely. And when he reached the stage where he didn't recognize his own reflection in the mirror, then we knew he was pretty far in the reaches of the disease.
For a long time, my mother liked to tell a story about how my father would talk to himself in the mirror, as if he were introducing himself to the man in front of him. It was sad to watch, and you had to decide whether to let him go because what was the harm or explain to him that he was seeing himself. Knowing he was looking at his own reflection might have confused him on certain days because he didn't think of himself as an 80-year-old man. In fact, he would sometimes look at my mother across the room and ask us, "Who is that old woman over there?" as if he thought he should be married to someone more his age, someone in their 40s or 50s.
One day he was talking to the stranger in the mirror, and my uncle, my mother's brother, watched with amused interest and later mocked my father—that's the part of the story my mother liked to tell because it made her so angry (as if she had always been a sensitive soul who was generous and kind with our father, but that's another story).
My sisters put together a photo album for him to help him identify people, but I don't recall that it helped him very much. We may have given it too late because he would look at pictures, and even though they were labeled with names, he still wouldn't understand what he was seeing. I remember his staring at a framed photo of one of us for the longest time, holding it up to the light and trying to figure out why the picture would be sitting on the coffee table in the living room. And then finally, he blurted out, "Who the hell is this?"
Well, after learning something about the new automatic camera and how it might help delay the progression of Alzheimer's, I'm hanging my hopes on the research and hoping that such a thing, if used early enough, might help people with this nasty disease that runs in my family bloodline. I'd prefer a definitive cure, but until then, give me the camera.