Pager jogs memory and helps rehab

by Mike Miller

Brain injury often causes memory problems. Patients may miss appointments, forget medication, neglect their work. Diaries can help, but have to be checked; digital organisers are complicated to use. Consequently, people with memory problems begin to depend on others – a spouse, family member or carer – to remind them and organise their lives. Independence is lost.

NeuroPage is a radio-paging technology that reminds users about things they need to do. The concept was originally developed in California by a neuropsychologist and the father of a young man who suffered a brain injury. The service, launched in the UK at the end of 2000, is run by the Oliver Zangwill Centre for Neuropsychological Rehabilitation at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Ely, Cambridgeshire.

The individual wears an ordinary pager and reminders are stored on a central computer. Reminders might be for ‘one-off’ events such as hospital appointments or buying a birthday card. They can also be regular events or tasks, such as checking a to-do list, taking medication or getting ready to go to work or college. At the appropriate time, the computer automatically sends the message to the individual’s pager. A bleep or vibration notifies the wearer, who presses a button to read the message.

At any point users can contact the NeuroPage office (by telephone, letter, fax or email) and update their regular messages and add any ‘one-off’ reminders they may need.

Professor Barbara Wilson OBE and colleagues at and the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge have studied the NeuroPage system in the UK. “Our research has shown that NeuroPage helps people with memory impairments to function more effectively in their day to day lives. It doesn’t repair a damaged memory,” notes Professor Wilson, “but it helps people to be more independent again and reduces the strain on relatives and carers who otherwise have to constantly remind their relatives of things they have to do. We have seen how it can also save money for health and social services in some situations, by reducing the need for carers.”

Since its launch, the NeuroPage service has been extended across the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Dr Jon Evans, a consultant at the Oliver Zangwill Centre, is enthusiastic about the response. “Twenty five people are currently regular users of the service,” he says. “This number is expected to grow over time. Some people just use the system for a limited period to help them establish routines or the use of other memory aids. There are also a number of people who are long term users of the system, for whom the NeuroPage has become an essential part of their life. It seems to be enabling them to lead much more full and independent lives than would otherwise be possible.”