This 14-Year-Old Is Developing a Mobile App to Help Alzheimer’s Patients Live Better Lives
BY LINDSAY WILKES-EDRINGTON
Emma Yang is a 14-year-old student on a mission to improve the lives of individuals with Alzheimer’s.
After learning how to code at a young age, Emma has now put her skills to work to create a mobile app called Timeless. As Emma describes it, Timeless is “a first of its kind, simple, caregiver assisted, easy-to-use mobile app for Alzheimer’s and dementia that helps them remember events, stay connected and engaged with friends and family, and recognize loved ones using artificial intelligence-based facial recognition technology.”
Emma was inspired to create Timeless after witnessing the challenges that her grandmother with Alzheimer’s faces on a daily basis. The app serves multiple purposes to help a person with Alzheimer’s lead a better life. In addition to helping them keep track of their schedules and days, the app also allows these individuals to use their camera phones to identify family and friends. It also allows loved ones to upload photos to the Alzheimer’s patient’s phone so that they’re on file and available to jog their memories.
Emma’s work on the app is still underway. She is currently raising funds on Indiegogo to finish development of Timeless, so that she can start to pilot the app to patients and their families. Being a full-time high schooler in New York, Emma acknowledges that her time to work on the app has been limited, which is why additional funding will help her expand her resources and get it off the ground more quickly.
You can support the app here and learn more from our interview with Emma below.
1. How did your grandmother inspire you to develop an app for people with Alzheimer’s?
My personal experiences with my grandmother are what inspired me to create Timeless. Having grown up with her, I have felt first-hand how the illness can affect not only the patient, but the family, friends and caregivers of the patient as well. I noticed that my grandma’s ability to recognize loved ones and her daily life was greatly impacted by the disease.
As my grandma’s disease progressed, I wanted to find a tool that helped to address these common difficulties faced by Alzheimer’s patients. I thought such a tool must have existed because of the scale of the disease. Unfortunately, I was not able to find an app that could help my grandmother live a better daily life. This inspired me to develop my own app that could help my grandmother stay connected with my family.
2. What kind of research on Alzheimer’s did you do?
While Timeless drew on my experiences with my grandmother, I also did research to support my hypothesis: Can a mobile app help the elderly, even Alzheimer’s patients?
I read publications by Alzheimer’s experts and reached out to Alzheimer’s specialists in my area who could give me guidance and feedback on Timeless. That was how I found my advisor, Dr. Melissa Kramps. As it turned out, there is a lot of research that suggests stimulating one’s memory and socializing, especially through looking at photos and staying engaged with loved ones, can help slow down cognitive decline. These findings supported my idea to develop Timeless.
3. What’s your background in app development and working with artificial intelligence?
I began coding when I was 6 years old, when my dad introduced me to a programming language called Scratch where you can drag and drop different kinds of blocks to make a program. I then went on to learn HTML/CSS, Java, and mobile app development using Swift. Prior to Timeless, I developed an app called ConcussionChecker that helps athletes detect concussions early. This app won second place globally at Technovation in 2015.
In the last 18 months when I was developing Timeless, I had the help from a number of UI/UX design and technology experts who mentored and guided me when I ran into problems. I accumulated my app development experience through hands-on training.
I am also in the Wolfram Research Mentorships Program. In the program, I learn the Wolfram Language and using it to learn Data Science and AI. Over the last 24 months, I have worked on analyzing NYC traffic collision using open data, using image recognition technique to identify road signs (an application for autonomous driving), using open data to match summer meals sites to underprivileged children as part of White House’s Opportunity project, and most recently, using CT scans to detect lung cancer using Machine Learning.
4. What are some of the features that the Timeless app offers?
Alzheimer’s patients oftentimes will have problems remembering events, and the names and faces of friends and relatives. Timeless addresses all of those difficulties in one single tool.
Timeless has four key functions:
Updates: provides patients a regular feed of photos that are contributed by their circle of friends. The people in the photos are tagged with names and relationship to the patients using AI-based facial recognition technology.
Today: provides reminder of the day’s activities to help patients effectively manage their daily lives.
Contact: is a picture phone book that helps patients contact their loved ones without remembering their phone number.
Identify: allows patients to use the phone’s camera to identify the person standing in front them using AI-based facial recognition technology. The goal of Timeless is to empower Alzheimer’s patients to live a better daily life.
5. How can others get involved?
Please help to spread the words about Alzheimer’s disease and Timeless. If they know of any users community, I would love to hear from them. Follow Timeless’ Facebook page and Twitter feed to stay up-to-date on Timeless. Help to support and spread the word of my crowdfunding campaign at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/timeless-a-mobile-app-for-alzheimer-s-patients/x/17985864#/ The funding will be used to scale and speed up the development of Timeless, so that I can put the app into the hands of Alzheimer’s patients and friends and family as soon as possible.
6. To anyone who wants to make a difference, but doesn’t feel like one person can be a changemaker, what do you say to them?
My experience tells me that anyone at any age could make a difference when we are driven by a purpose. You don’t have to be a politician or a doctor to effect change in the world. Solve the problems you see around you. Solve the problems that matter to you. Don’t let others tell you what not to do. Even if you don’t see them at first, there will eventually be like-minded people who will support you in your passions.
7. What inspires you to keep going?
I’m inspired by the belief that Timeless can make a difference; the overwhelming support that Timeless has been getting around the world (I recently even received a mention from Bill Gates on Facebook and Twitter!); and the desire to put this in the hands of patients so that they can live a better daily life!
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