Washington State Magazine

Spring 2009

Spring 2009


In This Issue...


What Is Art For? :: Art, says independent scholar Ellen Dissanayake '57, is "making special." It is an act that gives us a sense of belonging and meaning. It is passed from mother to child. Its origins lie deep in our evolutionary past. It makes us human. by Tim Steury

The Love Letters :: In 1907, Othello had no high school, so Xerpha Mae McCulloch '30 traveled 50 miles to Ritzville to finish school. There she met, and fell in love with, Edward Gaines, a few years her senior. The recent gift to Washington State University of her steamer trunk reveals the life of a woman whose story is not only threaded through the University's, but also through the story of agriculture in Washington State. by Hannelore Sudermann

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEGallery: Photos and letters from Xerpha's trunk }

You Must Remember This :: Having reached a certain age, our correspondent sets out to learn the latest from Washington State University researchers about memory. She learns that memory comes in different forms, that the human brain is made for problem-solving, and that the key to much of brain health is the "dendritic arbor." And then she sets out to create an action plan. by Cherie Winner

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEStory: Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe's work to help people with memory loss }


Privacy and the Words of the Dead :: Do we violate the privacy of the dead when we read what they wrote for themselves? Maybe it depends on our purposes. by Will Hamlin

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEGallery: Annotated pages from early English editions of Montaigne's Essays. }




:: SPORTS: Coaching with heart

:: GREEN PAGES: Building green

:: A gift toward fuel research

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Story: Yucatecan lentil soup recipe }


Cover photo: Bryan Hall clock tower reflected in the Abelson-Heald skybridge windows on the Pullman campus. By Zach Mazur.

Spring 2009
Web Exclusives

Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe's work to help people with memory loss

by Cherie Winner | © Washington State University

Whether the problems stem from normal aging, diseases like Alzheimer’s, or traumatic brain injury, impaired memory can turn even routine tasks into major challenges. The main focus of Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe’s work is finding ways to help people with memory loss cope better with everyday tasks, enabling them to live independently as long as possible.

In one recent project, she coached volunteers with memory loss in the use of a notebook that resembled a detailed day planner. They recorded what happened as each day went along, including what they did, when, and with whom. That helped them with content, source, and temporal ordering memory. They also wrote down things they wanted to do each day, a tactic designed to help clients whose prospective memory was not good. Each client’s spouse also participated, and all the clients and spouses met as a group once a week to discuss their experiences with the journal.

“The social support aspect of it I think ended up being just as important” as the notebooks themselves, she says. “The people were coming together around something they felt they could do to help with the dementia process. It can be very difficult to talk about these issues, so a lot of the members felt this was a very safe place to talk about the memory problems that they were having, and people would listen and understand.”

To read more about this project, see “Research to understand, intervene,” by Hope Belli Tinney (http://www.wsutoday.wsu.edu/Content/Publications/wsutoday%2003-03-06.pdf).

Schmitter-Edgecombe is now collaborating with Diane Cook of WSU’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science to create “smart” apartments for people with impaired cognitive function. Motion sensors in the rooms monitor the resident’s activities. A computer program then uses that information to remind the resident to do tasks such as turning off the stove or taking medications at specific times, or to notify a caregiver if something is amiss, such as the person standing in one spot for an extended period. Cook and her students are designing the network of sensors and developing the software that will interpret the information the sensors provide. Schmitter-Edgecombe brings in the human factors such as expected activity patterns and where people with memory loss are likely to have the most trouble.

“We know that if we can keep people in their homes just a little bit longer, that will provide significant savings to society,” says Schmitter-Edgecombe. “It also is very meaningful for the person and their caregivers to be able to do that in a way that’s going to show good quality of life.”

The project is supported by the state’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund. For more information, see “Neuropsychologist collaborates on ‘smart’ homes for independent living,” by Gail Seigel (http://newsletter.wsu.edu/chronicle/08december/smart-home.html), and “No place like home” by Becky Phillips (http://www.wsutoday.wsu.edu/Content/Publications/wsutoday%2009-05-08.pdf).

Categories: Biological sciences | Tags: Alzheimer's Disease, Memory