Dementia Hack

Toronto event focuses on technology-based solutions for patients with dementia

Photo by Ahmad Byagowi.

This November, three graduate students from the department of electrical and computer engineering attended Dementia Hack in Toronto, focusing on technology-based solutions for patients with dementia.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, hackathons are usually 24- to 72-hour events where programmers and inventors work together in self-assembled teams to develop tech-based solutions to problems.

Sometimes non-technical participants are also invited to provide other necessary disciplines to solve a problem. An example would be Hacking Health, which partners health caregivers with developers to come up with tech-based solutions to health problems.

Hackathons can cover a wide range of themes including general healthcare, humanitarian efforts, and space exploration.

Ahmad Byagowi, Paul White, and Cassandra Aldaba were sponsored by the U of M Biomedical Engineering lab to attend.

The hackathon had four categories for submissions: solutions for a diagnosed individual, family caregiver, clinician, and researcher.

The U of M team selected to develop a solution for a diagnosed individual, and focused on developing a method to help enable patients to brush their teeth.

“People with dementia have a hard time following a sequence and they forget [what they are doing] quite often”, Byagowi explains.

Their project involves the use of a device called the ArduIMU V4, which Byagowi and White helped developed.

The small device has various sensors which can track the position of the user’s toothbrush, toothpaste, and glass, and helps them keep track of what they are doing, while providing feedback on the next step in the task.

This project could also help a patient with dementia complete other similar tasks.

This project was selected based on some of the team members’ own personal experiences with the struggles of individuals with dementia.

While the team did not win in their category, they found the experience to be valuable.

“It was very interesting to see how the group came up with the idea, and [to see that idea] turned to a real prototype,” Byagowi told the Manitoban.

The winning projects include an app to help individuals with dementia to navigate and travel independently, an application for a family caregiver to track dementia-related behavior to help them manage and understand it, an app which provides a caregiver with personal care information for patients, and a care management system for researchers to collect big data.

Runner-up projects include an interpersonal video feed for constant communication between family and patients, a home monitoring system to track a patient, and a bubble pack which indicates to caregivers if a patient has taken their medication.

The U of M team worked with Zahra Moussavi, who holds the Canada Research Chair in biomedical engineering and serves as director of the biomedical engineering program. Her work primarily focuses on detecting early signs of Alzheimer’s using virtual environments that patients use to navigate inside a house.

Moussavi’s work was inspired by her mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, turning the course of her career. Her hope is to one day open a centre for healthy brain aging.