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U of T students take Facebook prize at #DementiaHack, win invitation to Silicon Valley

Their TakeMeHome app aims to help Canadians living with dementia

Oleksandra Sydorenko, Jyotheeswar Arvind Manickavasagar, Vishal Raheja, Sheena Melwani and Shayla Devonish)

The name was slightly edgy: DementiaHack. But the goal was pure altruism.

From Nov. 7 to 9, DementiaHack by HackerNest asked teams to produce products that would improve the lives of those living with dementia – a brain disease that affects the memory, thinking, and behaviour of an estimated 47.5 million people worldwide.

The event was sponsored by Facebook and supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the British Government, and the Province of Ontario. And the app developed by one U of T team won its members an invitation to Silicon Valley to tour Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Oculus headquarters. 

“With 750,000 Canadians living with dementia alone, we wanted to help those individuals stay safe, and live independently, longer,” said Jyotheeswar Arvind, a graduate student at the University of Toronto in the master of science in applied computing (MScAC) program.

In just 30 hours, Arvind and his group developed TakeMeHome, a mobile navigation application for those living with dementia.

“The application is two-fold, for both the individual and caregiver,” said teammate and MScAC graduate student, Vishal Raheja. “The caregiver can help support their loved-one by setting locations and geo-location reminders. The person with dementia can then use their app to easily navigate with directions that are further contextualized by familiar locations.”

By adapting existing Google Maps technology, TakeMeHome increases the individual’s ability to navigate outside their home, independently. The app was created with the support of Shayla Devonish and Sheena Melwani, U of T graduate students in the master of health informatics (MHI) program, and product designer, Oleksandra Sydorenko, who is currently working at a startup.

Its development also received invaluable input from subject matter experts – dementia sufferers and caregivers – including mentor Christopher Wynn, director of the documentary film, Forgetful Not Forgotten, about his father's Alzheimer's disease.

By the end of the two-day hack, the team took home the category prize in the area of solutions for Diagnosed Individuals, and the Facebook prize, which includes a trip to Silicon Valley to tour Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Oculus headquarters.

The Grand Prize Winner was Mable (Make A Better Life Everyday) – a care management system that creates a platform for researchers to gather big data.

“Our long-term goals are to continue working on the app and making it market-ready,” said Arvind. “We hope to partner with some of the amazing organizations that work towards dementia care, to make it available to patients.”

Nina Haikara is a writer with the department of computer science.