Today, there are an estimated 50 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. With no known cure and a poor understanding of the mechanisms behind it, Alzheimer’s is an illness that can bring sorrow to both patients and caregivers, including their family and friends; with 60 percent of caregivers reporting high levels of emotional stress.
Motivated by the struggles of patients and caregivers alike, RedWalls, a team of students from Tunisia’s National Institute of Applied Science and Technology, have come together to work on a solution which can alleviate some of the burdens of the illness.
Submitted as a project to Microsoft’s Imagine Cup competition, the team – Mohamed Said Fayache, Achraf Feydi, and Meriem Zhang – have progressed to the world finals. Inspired by the movie Still Alice, and the experiences of a family member with Alzheimer’s, they’re working on an app called I-Remember, to help both patients, and their caregivers.
“We’re happy that technology can help with this disease,” Meriem Zhang states. “One of us has a family member with Alzheimers, so we’re happy that we can help contribute something. This is an opportunity to make our country shine, and to accomplish a project like this is a dream.”
A familiar face
A key foundation of the I-Remember app is to help patients remember people and recall faces. One aspect of this functionality is an image gallery, which can have images of memorable events such as family birthdays, complete with a description of who is in the photo, details of the occasion, and when and where it was.
In addition, the team has also used a number of Microsoft tools to develop an artificial intelligence (AI) face recognition solution, which can be used to automatically provide information about a person to a patient, simply by holding a smartphone camera towards their face. Powered by Face, part of Azure’s cognitive services, users can also add new faces and label them accordingly, so that there’s a higher chance of newcomers being recognized in subsequent visits.
Other practical tools include cognitive games to help keep patients’ minds engaged, as well as a schedule to help them keep on top of the day’s events. People with Alzheimer’s can often become distressed when they can’t remember what they’re doing or who they’re with, so these memory-triggering features are designed to offer a source of comfort.
Another feature, powered by Azure Maps, is the Emergency capability, which provides easy access to emergency services, should a patient require them. This feature is mirrored in a caregiver-focused companion app, which shares the patient’s location in real-time, for peace of mind.
Given that people with dementia can become confused and lost, the ability to track their location is an important tool for caregivers, while increasing the safety of the patient. Caregivers can also be alerted if a patient leaves a pre-designated safe zone, providing an opportunity to ensure that an Alzheimer’s patient is safe before any serious problems arise.
The caregiver application also has additional resources to help explain various aspects of the disease, and how to cope with certain situations, such as advice on how to explain the disease to children, who may have relatives with the illness.
Team RedWalls plans to proceed with trials of their app, before modifying it based on feedback, ahead of a wider app release. “There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or a way to slow its progression,” Feydi states. “But as Robert A. Heinlein once said, everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done. Today, with technology like AI, the only thing that can make us abandon our fight against this disease, is believing that it’s incurable.”