Sometimes the mother of invention isn’t necessity; it’s a 15-year old boy scout. Kenneth Shinozuka wants to become a neuroscientist and find a cure for Alzheimer’s, a disease that has nearly incapacitated his grandfather. Someday, he may well accomplish this goal, but right now Shinozuka is still in high school and instead of a cure he has invented something that will help millions of people who have Alzheimer’s.
Shinozuka calls his device Safe Wander and it is aimed at people with memory loss who also wander. Wandering is exactly what Shinozuka’s grandfather, Deming, has done for several years. Deming was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease eleven years ago when Shinozuka was only a youngster. His family worried constantly about his grandfather’s safety, especially after Deming wandered away one evening and was found by police on a freeway a full two miles from home. Another concern was the additional burden the wandering placed on Shinozuka’s aunt who is Deming’s primary caregiver. In an interview he gave to Fast Company, Shinozuka talked about the wander issue, “About two years ago, my grandfather started wandering out of bed, which caused a lot of accidents,” he says. “My aunt had to stay awake all night to keep an eye on him and, even then, often failed to catch him leaving the bed.” Shinozuka thought this was a problem he could solve.
He went to work and created Safe Wander, a small, thin pressure sensor worn on the bottom of a person’s foot or with a sock. The device detects any increase in pressure and the sensor wirelessly sends an alert to a caregiver’s smartphone. Now when Shinozuka’s grandfather gets out of bed at night, Safe Wander alerts his aunt via an app (which he also designed) on her smartphone. So far, the device has successfully alerted 437 times with no false reports. Not only is Safe Wander accurate, it is also quiet. Other wander detection devices are often uncomfortable for the person to wear and they often make loud noises, which can traumatize the person who is wandering as well as frighten other residents.
You may be thinking: That’s a cool invention, but is there really a market for such a device? According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 60 percent of the 5.3 million American living with Alzheimer’s wander, most often at night. This invention will help all of these people as well as the millions of caregivers who are going without sleep. Shinozuka’s Safe Wander and the app has already won first prize at the $50,000 Scientific American Science in Action Award that is part of the Google Science Fair. Safe Wander is still in the running for other Google Science Fair awards to be announced next week.
When Shinozuka was profiled recently on NBC Nightly News, he indicated he wants to focus his career on finding solutions for those with Alzheimer’s disease. “I’d like to solve some of the mysteries of the brain, and invent tools to ultimately, I think, cure Alzheimer’s and other mental conditions that our aging population suffers from,” he said.