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An app to help persons with dementia remember

August 30, 2016
by Nicole Stempak, Senior Editor
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Emma Yang, 12, has trouble staying connected with her grandma who lives in Hong Kong. More than the spatial difference is the difficulty of communicating with a grandparent who has Alzheimer’s disease.

“For my Grandma, recognizing people and remembering who they are is becoming increasingly difficult,” Yang says to Tech50+. “She cannot remember if she has already spoken to someone, and she’ll call people repetitively and say the same things. She cannot remember phone numbers and addresses and will struggle when trying to call her friends. Clearly, distance is not the only problem, but her illness is also preventing us from staying connected with each other.”

Yang decided to build the app Timeless to help people with dementia recognize their loved ones, remember events and stay engaged. Yang worked with Miami-based startup Kairos with facial recognition technology to help users remember loved ones—and themselves.

Timeless is, well, a timeless, way to keep in touch. Caregivers can share pictures through Apple’s Photos app. Those pictures are displayed in a newsfeed and are stored as an archived collection. Facial recognition links the photos, relationship and contact information, so in a just a couple taps users can see, identify and get in touch with someone. Users can also take a picture of the person in front of them to help remember their identity.

The app also has a feature to prevent repeat calls. If the app detects that a person with Alzheimer’s has tried to make multiple phone calls to the same person in five minutes, that will trigger a dialog box asking the user “Are you sure you want to make this call?”

“The concept behind my idea is that we can allow technology to do what it’s good at, such as facial recognition, and use it to solve problems that we cannot solve ourselves,” Yang says. “The potential for technology to be able to help my grandmother, and others suffering from Alzheimer’s along the way, is what inspired me to create Timeless, because despite the difficulties of the illness, Alzheimer’s patient too should be able to cherish the timeless moments in life.”

Yan was named one of the “Ten Under Twenty” innovation awards announced at the 2016 CE WEEK conference in New York. This is her first time experience building an app from scratch. A demo of her fully-functional prototype can be viewed on Yang’s Vimeo page, and she hopes to roll out the app by the end of the year. 

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