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Ready, set, hack! 2015 LeadingAge Hackfest melds technology and engagement

November 1, 2015
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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This year's LeadingAge HackFest participants reached new levels of innovation in reimagining technology to improve seniors' lives. The 60+ participants formed 10 teams to create applications ranging from wellness tracker tools and and fall management apps to intergenerational mentoring programs for seniors and students.
Now in its third year, the Hackfest competition joins team participants from various disciplines in the mission of imagining and designing apps that fill a void in the senior technology market. To ensure designs are easy and engaging for seniors to use, each team includes an older adult and an aging services professional as coaches."There's a big difference between 'senior-friendly' and 'senior-centric," commented one participant. 
After 26 hours of work and undisclosed amounts of Red Bull and Halloween candy, teams had just 10 minutes to present their apps--including the business viability and marketing plan--to the seven-member judging panel. Projects were judged on originality, usability, feasibility, design relevance and level of development. Judges awarded the following prizes at the opening LeadingAge General Session:
First place: Team Technolageia's "Momentum" application for tracking range-of-motion and movement as a method of falls reduction. Keeping it simple, the app uses only a smart phone and the Cloud, proactively encouraging exercise and tracking results. Senior coach Jerry Zimmerman demonstrated the app, following the phone's verbal instructions to raise and lower his right arm to allow the phone's motion feature to measure his range of motion. More assessments and a sharing feature could be added later, the team explained. 
Runner up ($2,000): Team New Gold's app "Knock Knock" creates person-centered experiences for volunteers and the older adults they serve. Seniors and volunteers both create profiles of interests, activities and visitation wishes, and the system matches them with someone in their local area. The system encourages more volunteerism and helps to combat isolation and depression in seniors by helping them find local people to talk with or share an activity with, team members said.
Runner up ($2,000): Team Golden Age's "MeMe," a small console that communicates--and learns from what it hears. Designed by the team for those with early cognition challenges, users can ask it questions and receive information, much like Siri or Alexa. But the system also can learn information about the user and family members. The team's senior coach, Mimi Katz, demonstrated the system, saying: "I'm feeling anxious." "I'm sorry you're feeling anxious," the system's voice replied. "Would you like me to play you like me to play your favorite song?" Additional uses could include biography based care; panel judge Len Fishman even called it a "memory box that talks to you."
The final prize, the "People's Choice," will be determined by the LeadingAge attendees themselves; attendees will be able to see the projects in the HackFest pavilion and vote on their favorite application.
Majd Alwan, senior vice president of technology for LeadingAge and one of the Hackfest organizers, calls the event a "labor of love." The real issue, he says: "How can we help these teams get to the next level? CAST helps providers select technology and the Ziegler-LinkAge Fund invests in growth-mode companies, but there's a real need for a venture capital philanthropy fund and for organizations like LeadingAge to serve as advisors and test sites to foster new technology ideas."
Lili Dwight, HackFest co-founder, agrees. "The quality gets better and better every year, partly because there are a lot more quick application kits available online now. The level of completion also increases every year; these are viable products, not just PowerPoint presentations."
This year's judging panel:
Alice Bonner, PhD, RN, Massachusetts Secretary of Elder Affairs
Kevin Burns, Chief Information Security Officer, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Lisa D’Ambrosia, PhD, Research Scientist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab
Len Fishman, JD, Director of the Gerontology Institute, UMass Boston
Stephen W. Johnson, Managing Director, Senior Living Practice, Ziegler
Bill McQuaide, Chief Product Officer, PointClickCare
Jack York, President and Co-founder, It’s Never 2 Late
The industry coaches:
Anna Hall, Brookdale Senior Living
Bob Burke, George Washington University
Laura Caron-Parker, Genesis Rehabilitation Services
Lauren Sims, AllianceMed, LLC.
Maley Hunt, Hartford HealthCare Senior Services
Mia McFarland, Asbury Methodist Village
Michael Smith, Alzheimer's Resource Center
Mohammad Alnajadah, LeadingAge
Paul Lanzikos, North Shore Elder Services
Ravi Bala, HealthSignals
Sarah Thomas, Genesis Rehabilitation Services
The 2015 HackFest competition was held at the University of Massachusetts Boston campus and was hosted by The Asbury Group and Ziegler. The primary sponsors of the event included the gerontology department at the University of Massachusetts - Boston, Galactic Smarties, HP, Hebrew Senior Life, It’s Never 2 Late, LeadingAge Massachusetts, MIT AgeLab and PointClickCare.