Emma Yang is 12 years old and is the recipient of the 10 under 20 award for creating an app to help people who are suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. What follows is Emma’s own words about the app and her motivation.
Young Innovators to Watch Winner
EMMA YANG | TIMELESS
Explanation: I created a mobile app called Timeless. Timeless is targeted at patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. It is a first of its kind, easy-to-use and accessible app that helps the patient remember and recognize their friends and family, and stay updated with what relatives and friends are up to. Alzheimer’s is a chronic neurodegenerative disease affecting more than 44 million people worldwide. The most prevalent problem caused by Alzheimer’s is memory loss and confusion. Some common examples of this include unknowingly calling the same person repetitively for the same thing and forgetting phone numbers and addresses. The most troublesome problem that the disease causes is forgetting family and friends, or not being able to recognize them. However, I found that there are very few accessible tools that patients and caregivers can use to make living with Alzheimer’s disease or caring for an Alzheimer’s patient easier, despite the overwhelming number of people affected by the disease and the difficulties faced by patients.
Timeless solves these problems by leveraging the convenience of mobile technology and artificial intelligence-based facial recognition technology. The main function of the app is the identification of family and friends. I utilized an artificial-intelligence-based facial recognition platform in my app. When given a photo of a person, the app compares it with a pre-enrolled one and identifies who the person is. In the app, the user can recognize who is in front of them. This solves a common problem among Alzheimer’s patients — forgetting who their family and friends are or not being able to recognize them.
Another main function of the app is Updates. Updates is a stream of photos sent to the patient from family and friends of their activities. By using the facial recognition platform, the app can identify faces in the photos. This function allows the patient to not only recognize family and friends in pictures, but also stay posted on what they’re up to.
Alzheimer’s patients can often forget that they’ve just called someone about something, and will repetitively call the same person for the same thing. This problem is solved in Timeless. The patient can call and text contacts through the app. When the patient tries to call the same person repetitively, the app will remind the patient that he or she just called and ask for confirmation.
Timeless was developed using Swift, a programming language for iOS, Xcode, an application development environment provided by Apple, Sketch, a UI design tool, Flinto, a prototyping tool, and UI Kits from UI8.net. For the recognition of faces, I used Kairos, a human analytics platform, to develop the artificial intelligence based facial recognition aspect of the app. With these tools, I was able to create a working prototype of Timeless within a month.
The next step is to fully develop the app so it can be put on the App Store and be available for Alzheimer’s patients so it can help them improve their daily lives and cherish the timeless moments of life.
Inspiration: When I was 8 years old, my Grandma thought I was 13. And then one day, she forgot my birthday and my Dad’s birthday. My Grandma suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. She lives in Hong Kong and we live in New York. The distance makes it hard to stay engaged with her, especially as the illness progresses. For my Grandma, recognizing people and remembering who they are becoming increasingly difficult. She cannot remember that she has already spoken to someone, 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.
These problems are not uncommon among patients suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. The illness affects 44 million worldwide. In the US alone, one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. At later stages of the illness, patients may longer be able to recognize family and friends in a picture. Simple everyday things that seem easy can become difficult for Alzheimer’s patients. Yet, despite the difficulties that Alzheimer’s patients face and the increasing prevalence of the disease, there are no accessible and easy-to-use existing tools for helping Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers for coping with the effects of the disease.
Scientists have yet to find a cure for the illness, but while we search for a cure, we need to find ways to provide better care. I love to code and seem to be good at it. I often asked myself “How can I make use of such gift to change the world?’ This problem that we are facing today is a perfect example of something we can solve with technology.
My idea is simple – An app that helps Alzheimer’s patients recognize their loved ones, remember events, and stay connected and engaged with the people around them. I strongly believe that it will help Alzheimer’s patients live better lives. The possibility for them to be empowered with their own lives can radically turn around the difficulties the illness causes. Using my idea will allow them to sustain their independence and happiness, even if they may not necessarily be able to be cured of their condition. I believe giving benefit to the patient and caregiver is one of the most important things we can do to help people affected by the illness while we continue to search for a cure.
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. 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.
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