Sep 22, 2014

Safe Wander - A High School Students' Amazing Alzheimer's Invention

About two years ago, my grandfather started wandering out of bed, which caused a lot of accidents. My aunt had to stay awake all night to keep an eye on him and, even then, often failed to catch him leaving the bed.

By Nancy Wurtzel
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Safe Wander | Alzheimer's Reading Room

Sometimes the mother of invention isn't necessity; it's a 15-year old boy scout.

Kenneth Shinozuka wants to become a neuroscientist and find a cure for Alzheimer's, a disease that has nearly incapacitated his grandfather.

Someday, he may well accomplish this goal, but right now Shinozuka is still in high school and instead of a cure he has invented something that will help millions of people who have Alzheimer's.

Shinozuka calls his device Safe Wander and it is aimed at people with memory loss who also wander.

Wandering is exactly what Shinozuka's grandfather, Deming, has done for several years. Deming was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease eleven years ago when Shinozuka was only a youngster.

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His family worried constantly about his grandfather's safety, especially after Deming wandered away one evening and was found by police on a freeway a full two miles from home. 

Another concern was the additional burden the wandering placed on Shinozuka's aunt who is Deming's primary caregiver.

In an interview he gave to Fast Company, Shinozuka talked about the wander issue,
"About two years ago, my grandfather started wandering out of bed, which caused a lot of accidents," he says. "My aunt had to stay awake all night to keep an eye on him and, even then, often failed to catch him leaving the bed."
Shinozuka thought this was a problem he could solve.

He went to work and created Safe Wander, a small, thin pressure sensor worn on the bottom of a person's foot or with a sock. The device detects any increase in pressure and the sensor wirelessly sends an alert to a caregiver's smartphone.

Now when Shinozuka's grandfather gets out of bed at night, Safe Wander alerts his aunt via an app (which he also designed) on her smartphone. So far, the device has successfully alerted 437 times with no false reports.

Not only is Safe Wander accurate, it is also quiet. Other wander detection devices are often uncomfortable for the person to wear and they often make loud noises, which can traumatize the person who is wandering as well as frighten other residents.

You may be thinking: That's a cool invention, but is there really a market for such a device?

According to the Alzheimer's Association, about 60 percent of the 5.3 million American living with Alzheimer's wander, most often at night. This invention will help all of these people as well as the millions of caregivers who are going without sleep.

Shinozuka's Safe Wander and the app has already won first prize at the $50,000 Scientific American Science in Action Award that is part of the Google Science Fair. Safe Wander is still in the running for other Google Science Fair awards to be announced next week.

When Shinozuka was profiled recently on NBC Nightly News, he indicated he wants to focus his career on finding solutions for those with Alzheimer's disease.
 "I'd like to solve some of the mysteries of the brain, and invent tools to ultimately, I think, cure Alzheimer's and other mental conditions that our aging population suffers from," he said.
Personally, reading about Shinozuka's invention and his future goals makes me feel a tiny bit more confident that a cure will be found for Alzheimer's.

We need more innovators like him on the front line of fighting the disease and finding tools to help those who already have it.

Nancy Wurtzel
Nancy Wurtzel writes Dating Dementia -- a slightly twisted and humorous blog -- about making big changes at midlife. Read about Nancy's journey through divorce, restarting a career, empty nest challenges, moving home, baby boomer issues and caring for an aging parent with Alzheimer’s disease. Visit Dating Dementia.

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Excerpt from:

Why Do People with Alzheimer's Wander and What You Can Do to Keep Them Safe?

Tips to prevent wandering

Although it may be impossible to completely prevent wandering, changes in the environment can be helpful. For example, a woman who was a busy homemaker throughout her life may be less likely to become bored and wander if a basket of towels is available for her to fold.

People with Alzheimer's often forget where they are. They may have difficulty finding the bathroom, bedroom or kitchen. Some people need to explore their immediate environment periodically to reorient themselves.

Posting descriptive photographs on the doors to various rooms, including a photo of the individual on the door to his or her own room, can help with navigation inside the home. Offering a snack, a glass of water or use of the bathroom may help identify a need being expressed by wandering. Sometimes the wandering person is looking for family members or something familiar. In such cases, providing a family photo album and sharing reminiscences may help.

Watch for patterns

If wandering occurs at the same time every day, it may be linked to a lifelong routine. For instance, a woman who tries to leave the nursing home every day at 5 p.m. may believe she's going home from work.

This belief could be reinforced if she sees nursing home personnel leaving at that time. A planned activity at that hour, or arranging for staff to exit through a different door at the end of their shift, could provide a distraction and prevent the wandering behavior.

Wandering also may be related to:
  • Medication side effects
  • Memory loss and disorientation
  • Attempts to express emotions, such as fear, isolation, loneliness or loss
  • Curiosity
  • Restlessness or boredom
  • Stimuli that trigger memories or routines, such as the sight of coats and boots next to a door, a signal that it's time to go outdoors
  • Being in a new situation or environment

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