A proposed smartphone app to help individuals with cognitive disabilities easily navigate the challenges of daily life is $50,000 closer to reality, after a group from the University of Victoria was named a finalist earlier this month in a nationwide Cognition Challenge.
A trio of academics working on behalf of UVic’s CanAssist program – Celina Berg, Yvonne Coady and CanAssist founder Nigel Livingston – earned the contest’s top prize, which includes the money, as well as space and expertise to help them develop and commercialize their app.
“This is super exciting for CanAssist, and the opportunity for us to expand into a new area of commercialization is really fabulous,” said Berg, who travelled to San Francisco on July 9 with Coady to present their proposal to a panel of judges.
Their app, CanDo, would be designed to help cognitively disabled individuals and their caregivers with the planning, navigation and execution of everyday activities, building on the technologies already built in to a smartphone.
“For example, say someone was planning to go on an outing the next day. The night before, the caregiver could program the app to have a set of tasks they have to remember to do – charge your phone, put your wallet and keys by the door, set your alarm for a certain time,” Berg said. “We want to focus on the ability to allow a caregiver – that could be medical staff, it could be family – to customize the tasks for the patient.”
She equates the reminders and step-by-step instructions to a modern, high-tech version of the common practice of using Post-It notes stuck throughout a house as reminders for Alzheimer’s patients.
“The smartphone has the ability to collect data. It has all these sensors we can make use of – GPS, time stamps, accelerometer, and it can send out notifications to a caregiver,” Berg said. “That’s all valuable to a caregiver to see how their family member is doing, or to a researcher who wants to track how a theory or treatment is helping or affecting their everyday tasks.”
The Cognition Challenge was put on by Johnson & Johnson and the Consulate General of Canada, and asked researchers to “submit their solutions to address problems of learning and memory related to Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive orders,” read a release.
CanAssist is a UVic-based organization that aims to improve the quality of life for those living with disabilities. It already has two free smartphone apps available, CanPlan and CanConnect. CanPlan helps users move through a task using text and photos, while CanConnect is a user-friendly, striped-down version of Skype. They are also currently developing CanPlan, which helps users navigate public transit.
There’s currently no timeline on getting CanDo to its commercialization phase, as there’s a lengthy research and development process to undertake first.
“When the judges awarded us the money, they said they would like to help us to focus on maybe a smaller user group, and later on expand it to a broader demographic,” Berg said. “We really want to connect with some experts, and really make the user and caregiver the primary focus because we want this to be user-driven development.”
For more information on CanAssist, visit canassist.ca.