Her Grandma Has Alzheimer’s, So She Built an App to Help Her Remember

14-year-old alzheimer's app developer tries to help patients like her grandma

After watching her beloved grandmother become increasingly forgetful over the past few years due to Alzheimer’s disease, 14-year-old Emma Yang decided to use her coding skills to help make a difference.

Yang, whose grandma began showing symptoms of the chronic neurodegenerative disease when she was 7 or 8 years old, decided to create an app for her as soon as she learned how to code.

“I have personal experience with how the disease can affect not only the patient, but also family and friends,” Yang told Fast Company.

“When I was about 11 or 12, I got really interested in using technology for social good to help other people around the world.”

alzheimer's app developer in only 14 years old
Image via YouTube / TEDx Talks

She is currently tweaking “Timeless”, her upcoming app that would allow Alzheimer’s patients to scroll through photos of loved ones. Using facial recognition technology, the app will also be able to tell the user who a person is and how they’re related. If the patient fails to recognize someone in the room, the app can take a picture and try to automatically identify them.

“I saw a lot of things about how AI and facial recognition were really evolving and being applied in more and more areas, especially healthcare,” Yang revealed.

Her mentors at the tech company Kairos are helping her incorporate their proprietary facial recognition software in her app. She also learned to code for the iPhone for the first time to allow her to bring the technology to as many users as possible.

teen alzheimer's app developer empowers patients

Other features of the app include a reminder screen that lists daily appointments, a simple contacts screen that shows names and photos of family members, and a “me” page which shows details about the patient such as his/her own name, age, phone number, and address.

The app also alerts its users if they try to call a contact repeatedly, which sometimes occur with Alzheimer’s patients. In such instance, a notification would flash, saying, “Are you sure you want to call? You just called less than five minutes ago.”

Some parts and features of the app are intended to be utilized by the patient’s caregiver. These features include the placing of events on the daily calendar, and filling up the set of photos that the facial recognition algorithm can use to learn to identify the patient’s loved ones.

Yang believes her app will be very beneficial, especially to patients who are in the early stages of the disease.

“There are no apps on the market that really help Alzheimer’s patients with their daily lives,” she explained.

“A lot of times people think that it’s not going to help, or the elderly can’t really use technology, but in fact, if you strategically introduce it to them, it’s actually a possibility and can really benefit their lives.”

Yang’s app is still under development and she’s currently raising funds via a crowdsourcing campaign to allow her to move forward with testing the features with patients. Her Indiegogo campaign has raised $4,717 of the $50,000 goal so far from 65 backers.

Alzheimer’s disease, which affects 50 million people worldwide, still has no available cure despite decades of research. Drug and non-drug treatments are currently used to aid both cognitive and behavioral symptoms in patients.

Yang’s “Timeless”, which seeks to help Alzheimer’s patients live a better daily life, could make a significant impact on its users if properly implemented.

“It can be hard for somebody who has a lot of cognitive impairment or memory problems to learn a new technology or software,” UCSF Memory and Aging Center Associate Professor Katherine Possin was quoted as saying. “But if somebody’s mild in their disease, and with support from their caregiver, it’s possible that if the app is simple enough that they can learn to use it through repetition and practice.”

Feature Image via YouTube / TEDx Talks

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