Nigerian-Irish Teens Develop a Dementia App for Sufferers Coping With Lockdown–and It’s Won Awards

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Thanks to three remarkable teenage girls and their amazing mentor, there’s a brand-new app on the horizon specifically designed to help Dementia patients and caregivers better navigate the confusing waters of the disease.

While STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) have long been considered a traditional boys’ club, with brilliant minds like those of Joy Njekwe, 17, Rachael Akano, 15, and Margaret Akano, 17–whose innovative app Memory Haven recently bested a field of 1,500 entrants from 62 countries to take first prize in the Technovation Girls competition at the 2020 Technovation World Summit–persistent gender barriers and glass ceilings will continue to crumble.

The Nigerian-Irish teens live in Drogheda on the east coast of Ireland. Their mentor, Evelyn Nomayo is currently perusing her Ph.D. in computer science and statistics.

When Nomayo realized she was often the only female or person of color in her classes, the obvious imbalance troubled her. So with the goal of bringing more girls and people of color into that space, she founded Phase Innovate, whose mission is to mentor and train underrepresented minorities in the fields of tech and business.

Inspired by Nomayo’s recollection of her own mother’s battle with dementia, and worried about how people with the condition might be struggling with lockdown, the trio brainstormed, coded, and created Memory Haven over the course of the 12-week Technovation challenge.

“My mom started having dementia problems three to four years ago,” Nomayo, whose mother passed away earlier this year, told NPR.

“The first time I realized something was wrong was when she started hallucinating. She lived in America, but she’d be imagining that she was in Nigeria. One time [when I was visiting her] I gave her something to sew, and I could see the pain in her eyes because she forgot how to.

“She used to be a seamstress, but she couldn’t do it anymore. So some of my experiences that I had with her, the team translated into technology to help others.”

Memory Haven is geared to address the three most common difficulties associated with dementia: speech impairment, loss of memory, and a diminished capacity for recognition.

The app features a music playlist with a built-in facial and vocal recognition that tailors tunes to the user’s specific moods and a reach out function to summon help in emergency situations.

Other functions include a photo wallet that lets users scan through tagged pictures of the important people in their lives; memory games to improve cognitive function, and health alerts that offer both patients and caregivers reminders of appointments or when it’s time to take medications.

“Our main aim is just to help as many people as possible,” project manager Akano told the BBC. “We hope that our app can go global one day and reach millions of people who are affected by dementia and just make their lives somewhat easier.”

Due to the constraints of COVID-19, Njekwe and the Akano sisters conducted most of their work for their Technovation Girls project via WhatsApp.

Even this year’s award ceremony was conducted virtually, but that didn’t dim the girls’ joyous response when they learned they’d taken home the top prize.