Over five million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s. It is the sixth biggest killer disease. The victims of this terrible disease are not only the patients themselves but their caregivers. Challenges abound on how to compassionately and safely care for people who can no longer take care of themselves.
A fifteen-year-old boy named Kenneth Shinozuka was the winner of the Scientific American Science in Action Award for his invention to protect those with Alzheimer’s and relieve some of the stress for their caregivers. He explains his invention in this video.
As with many caregivers, the responsibility for another person is enormous, constant and stressful. As with many Alzheimer’s patients (and other forms of dementia), there is a tendency to wander–at any time of day. During the day, it’s not as difficult to keep track of your charge (not that it’s easy at any time) but there are even greater risks at night, after the caregiver has retired for some much-needed rest.
Enter Kenneth’s invention.
This brilliant and compassionate boy devised a small, flexible sensor that can be either affixed to the patient’s foot or embedded in a sock. When the wanderer puts pressure on the sensor, a signal is wirelessly transmitted via Bluetooth technology to a smartphone application that sounds an alert. The caregiver can then respond.
Kenneth was inspired by his grandfather who has Alzheimer’s disease and his aunt, the primary caregiver. There was a great deal of stress in the family because of his grandfather’s frequent meanderings that are not only difficult to manage but pose a safety hazard. He came upon the idea when he watched his grandfather get out of bed and put his feet on the floor.
Teaching himself the technology necessary to bring his idea to life, Kenneth has successfully tested his foot sensor with his family with an alert being sounded every time his grandfather stepped out of bed over a six-month period–four hundred thirty-seven times–with no false positives.
This kid is really something special. From his study’s conclusions:
“This project has not only validated my hypothesis, but also opened up new avenues of research. Using the sensor data from my grandfather, I am studying the correlation between the frequency of his nightly wandering and his daily diet/activities. Such information could be useful for developing a predictive and preventive care. This approach could have wider applications. For instance, using this sensor to monitor a larger population of Alzheimer’s patients could lead to a fundamental understanding of the causes of wandering and thus ways to mitigate or prevent it. This has further motivated me to validate my technology on a large population of patients. I am in the process of having hundred of units manufactured for donation to nursing homes, where I have provided community service with my fellow Boy Scouts to Alzheimer’s patients.”
Further, Kenneth has learned a great deal, not only technology-wise but human-wise and is wise enough to recognize it:
“This project has given me an incredible life experience–the excitement of creating something new, the pain of getting nowhere, the joy of overcoming obstacles, the pride of accomplishment (including my U.S patent and journal publication from this project), and the peace of mind from knowing that my grandfather is safe and my aunt can sleep better at night. I will never forget how deeply moved my entire family was when they first witnessed my sensor detecting Grandfather’s wandering. At that moment, I was struck by the power of technology to change lives. I am now even more motivated to pursue my passion for technological innovations that solve health care problems facing our increasingly aging society.”
Dodging the Bullet
For those of us fortunate enough to have avoided this debilitating disease, there are things we can do to minimize our risk of developing this and other degenerative disease. Glutathione is a “master antioxidant” that has been shown to promote brain health. It can be found in high amounts in cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, kale, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli.
Regular exercise and eating enough omega-3 fatty acids also support the immune system in general and brain specifically. Keeping active mentally and maintaining close meaningful relationships also contribute to protect us from this type of disease.
At a time when the population is aging and neurological disorders are on the rise, we need innovations like Kenneth’s to support the families whose lives they touch.