14-year-old Chinese-American creates world's first app for Alzheimer's patients

Updated 2018-04-13 16:11:05

Written in black fonts, the date, phone numbers, and daily events are written on a big whiteboard in the center of the living room. It is not for the office, but a necessity for an Alzheimer's patient trying to stay engaged with loved ones.

The time of "black and white" writing on whiteboards may be gone soon.

A mobile app in development, seen as the first of its kind, is expected to use technology to help Alzheimer's and dementia patients remember events and stay connected with family and friends.

The app, Timeless, though yet to be officially released, has received increasing recognition on social media, including by Bill Gates. In a tweet on February 2, Gates praised the app designers for trying to "bridge the gap between Alzheimer's patients and their loved ones."

To many people's surprise, the app came by the hands of Yang Junxi, a 14-year-old high school girl from China's Hong Kong, but who currently lives in New York, U.S. Yang told People's Daily Online that she hopes to collaborate with Gates in the future, knowing that his father also suffers from Alzheimer's.

She said she got the idea for Timeless in 2015 after she found it increasingly harder to communicate with her Alzheimer-diagnosed grandmother.

Yang grew up with her grandmother, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2014 – the same year her family moved to New York. As the connection between her grandmother and the rest of the family weakened, the heartbroken Yang relied on her programming skills as a way to hold her grandmother closer.

Yang's parents originally set up the traditional black and white visual aids around the house to help her grandmother reacquire her sense of time. "We would send her photos, in hope that she would remember us for as long as possible," Yang said.

But the girl, who started coding when she was 6 years old, wanted more.

Writing in Swift, the programming language for IOS, Yang started developing a prototype of the app. The first phase of the development will be completed in the summer of 2018.

"It's simple, caregiver assisted, and easy to use." She said the app has various functions, including a tagging feature to associate names and relationships with photos, a simple daily information feature, and a feature that allows phone calls to be made simply by clicking on a person's photo.

"The most unique function of the app is the identify function," Yang said. Stitching AI and facial-recognition technology together into the app, patients can take a photo of a face in front of them, whether in real life or on a photo, and Timeless will tell them who it is.

Yang's grandmother has given her a thumb up for her project and she likes the app's prototype very much, Yang said.

Yang and her team have raised ,000 from an online campaign and are currently working on the first phase of the development.

With the world's largest population of 1.4 billion people, China had approximately 10 million Alzheimer patients in 2016, according to World Health Organization and the 2013 Alzheimer's Diseases International report.

Yang told People's Daily Online that she also plans to develop a Chinese-version of the app and promote it to the patients in China once it is released.

"There's no cure [for Alzheimer's disease], but we can slow the progression and extend the connection and memory they have," the girl said.

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