Extraordinary People

Teens create trailblazing dementia app to tackle memory loss and recognition

Incredible invention could be a lifeline to someone in your family.

A group of teen girls are flying the flag for young philanthropy and entrepreneurship after developing an app to help people with dementia.

Their creative tool, to help people in particular during lockdown, has caught worldwide attention with the trio taking the top prize of a global competition.

It all began when Joy Njekwe, 17, Margaret Akano, also 17, and Rachael Akano, 15, invented Memory Haven to tackle the most common hurdles associated with dementia – speech impairment, loss of memory, and a diminished capacity for recognition.

The Nigerian-Irish team got to work with the help of mentor, Evelyn Nomayo – also developing her own academic prowess with a PhD in computer science and statistics.

Evelyn’s mother battled dementia and was the inspiration behind knowing how people might struggle while social distancing away from friends, family and regular activities.

Joy, Margaret, and Rachael decided trying to improve the lives of those with dementia would be at the heart of their project to enter the Technovation Girls competition.

As part of the Technovation World Summit 2020, the girls contest – with 1,500 entrants from 62 countries – aims to empower females to get involved with STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) that were previously considered boy topics.

Using dementia as the steer, the girls then created their app over 12 weeks to include a music playlist with 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 invites users to scan pictures of the important people in their lives, memory games to improve cognitive function, and health alerts that offer patients and carers reminders of appointments or when to take medication.

Speaking about their success, Evelyn told a US radio station: “My mum started having dementia problems three to four years ago.

“The first time I realised something was wrong was when she started hallucinating. She lived in America, but she’d be imagining that she was in Nigeria.”

She added: “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.”

The girls joined forced with mentor Evelyn after she founded Phase Innovate, an organisation that trains underrepresented minorities in the fields of tech and business.

It was thanks to this union that led them to triumph with global glory at the competition that equips young women (aged 10-18) to become tech entrepreneurs and leaders.

Now, these are the role models we can aspire to be.  

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