More than 5 million elderly in the U.S. alone have Alzheimer’s disease. The condition can cause stress and hardship for caregivers, especially when they are trying to help an afflicted family member remain in their home. Patients are forgetful, and can wander off. This requires constant vigilance by the caregivers, which can be a problem at night when they are trying to get some rest. This was the problem faced by Kenneth Shinozuka’s family, whose aunt was trying to care for his grandfather who would often get out of his bed at night.
Shinozuka is only 15 years old, but he decided to come up with a solution. He created a thin, flexible pressure sensor connected to a flat conductor. At the other end, he created a small processor the size of a quarter that could relay the signal from the sensor via a Bluetooth Low Energy (VBLE) wireless connection. A smartphone can receive this signal, and an app will sound an alert for the caregiver when the pressure sensor is activated. It also records the time of each alert, and is designed to eliminate false alarms. Shinozuka designed and built his own circuit board for the BLE module and coin battery.
The first design was for a sock with the sensor attached. He realized that not all people wear socks when sleeping, so he created a second prototype that can be attached to a sock or taped directly to the patient’s ankle and heel. Shinozuka entered his project in the Google Science Fair 2014, for which he won the $50,000 Scientific American Science in Action Award.