Bryan Hong on HippoCamera: A Smartphone App to Combat Memory Loss

AUTHOR(S) & CREDENTIALS: Bryan Hong, PhD candidate and AGE-WELL trainee, and Karolina Jalowska, Digital Media Coordinator at the APPTA hub and AGE-WELL NCE


Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I discovered my love for memory research while obtaining my HBSc with a double major in Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Toronto. I decided to continue in my research career by pursuing a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience with Dr. Morgan Barense at the University of Toronto, where I broadly study the organizational structure of our memories. In addition to my research, I am a co-founder of Dynamic Memory Solutions Incorporated, a Toronto-based company developing evidence-based digital tools to improve memory.

What is your current project about and what inspired you to begin working on it?

Memories make us who we are—being able to translate our current understanding of how memory works into tangible solutions that can help preserve our memories is what drives me. We’ve developed HippoCamera, an easy-to-use smartphone-based memory aid that allows users to create and review reminiscence cues for real-world events from their lives. Importantly, it’s been designed to mimic key functions of the hippocampus, a brain region critical for supporting new memories. HippoCamera has been extensively validated among various groups of older adults with and without memory impairment—we have consistently shown a significant boost in recall for events recorded with HippoCamera compared to those that have not. I was awarded with the AGE-WELL Emerging Entrepreneur Award in June 2021, which has provided invaluable support, training, and mentorship for this work.

What are some of the current of future real-world applications of your project?

We tend to lose the specific details that make up the events from our lives with age. This process is exacerbated in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, which is projected to directly affect over 900,000 Canadians by 2030. Memory loss can have profound consequences on the self-identity, personal autonomy, and social relationships of those affected, which can in turn further worsen memory loss. HippoCamera aims to break this vicious cycle by helping to preserve our memory for the moments that make our lives special.

What is next for HippoCamera?

We are currently developing and validating Memory Coach, a novel reminiscence program revolving around HippoCamera. The Memory Coach program provides participants with support from a trained professional to learn how to use HippoCamera and apply memory strategies in their own day-to-day lives. Memory Coach will also provide participants with the opportunity to share their HippoCamera memories with other participants, similar to a book club for their memories. In addition, we are working on implementing features to improve user engagement, including metrics to provide users with feedback on their memory performance.