Teen Invents Sock Device That Could Save Alzheimer’s Patients’ Lives

A 15-year-old boy won the Scientific American Science in Action Award via the Google Science Fair for inventing a simple device that could save the lives of people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Kenneth Schinozuka of New York received $50,000 in the contest for his invention of a wearable sensor that detects when an Alzheimer’s patient stands up. According to Scientific American, the thin, coin-size sensor is worn on the bottom of the foot, and transmits a message to caregivers via their smartphone, alerting them when a patient stands up.

The invention was inspired by Shinozuka’s grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s disease, and was found wandering on a freeway at night after he got out of the house without being noticed.

Alzheimer’s patients are often given anti-anxiety or sleeping medications, as noted in this Inquisitr article, but they don’t always help, and sometimes even worsen dementia. Many people with Alzheimer’s still wake often at night and may attempt to wander while caregivers are sleeping. NBC News reports that, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, of the estimated five million Americans with the disease, about 60 percent of them wander — and often become dangerously lost — as a result.

“I don’t think I will ever forget my shock at seeing Grandfather in his pajamas, accompanied by a policeman who found him wandering on a nearby freeway in the middle of the night,” the teen said.

That frightening incident inspired him to design the sensor to keep his grandfather safe, and give peace of mind to his aunt, the grandfather’s primary caregiver.

In his summary of the invention on the Google Science Fair website, Shinozuka described the simple device, which uses Bluetooth technology to transmit a signal.

“To protect their [Alzheimer’s patients] safety and alleviate the burdens on their caregivers, I invented a low-cost wearable sensor technology for real-time, reliable detection of patients’ wanderings. Once the patient steps onto the floor, a sensor worn on the foot will immediately detect the pressure caused by body weight and wirelessly trigger an audible alert in a caregiver’s Smartphone.”

Shinozuka made two prototypes, one that attached to the foot with an adhesive, and one that was integrated into a sock. He then tested the device on his grandfather.

“A six-month trial on my grandfather validated my hypothesis,” he wrote. “The systems detected 100 percent of the 437 known cases of his wandering and issued alerts within one second of his stepping out of bed. No false alarm was issued.”

Shinozuka added, “In addition to solving the originally intended problem, using the sensor to monitor a larger population of Alzheimer’s patients could lead to a fundamental understanding of the causes of wandering and thus ways to mitigate or prevent it.”

He also demonstrated the device at a local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and several senior care facilities.

Shinozuka has obtained a U.S. Patent for the device, and plans to market it. He told NBC News, “I hope that my device will ultimately reach out to the tens of millions of wandering patients around the world and also relieve the burdens on their caregivers.”

[Image via WXXI News]