Waterloo develops app to help find missing people with dementia

University of Waterloo (UoW) researchers, together with community volunteers, have developed a mobile alert app, Community ASAP, to help locate missing people with dementia.

IT World Canada asked Noelannah Neubauer, one of the researchers on the team and currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo’s School of Public Health Sciences, to explain the composition of the research team and how the app was built.

Neubauer, along with three other UoW researchers, carried out research that tested the efficacy and useability of Community ASAP. They engaged people living with dementia, their care partners, police services, search and rescue organizations, and health and social service providers in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia to develop the alert system that asks community members, as volunteers, to watch for people with dementia who have been reported missing, Neubauer told the publication.

The idea behind this app emerged in 2017 when Neubauer and her team members were introduced to Ron Beleno, who as care partner for his father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for 10 years, was always looking at different ways to try and to keep his father as safe as possible.

“I have come to learn that people with dementia is quickly becoming one of the number one populations that were being reported as missing to police. We know that the numbers are only going to continue to get worse as the dementia population is expected to double within the next 20 years,” said Newbauer. “The app aims to address a gap in available tools when it comes to alerts for missing older adults and people living with dementia in Canada. We have Amber Alerts for missing children, but nothing for this population other than police and civilians circulating information via social media such as Twitter and Facebook.”

Community ASAP allows people to sign up to receive the alerts on Android and iOS operating systems and to even choose to only receive alerts for missing persons who were last seen within a defined distance from their current location to avoid significant alert fatigue. This is because, Neubauer says, a large number of people go missing from this population and most often missing individuals are found one kilometre or less from the place they were last seen.

“A key concern is that if someone gets lost and is not found within 24 hours, they have a 50 per cent chance of experiencing serious injury or death,” said Lili Liu, principal investigator, and dean of the Faculty of Health at Waterloo. “We proposed recommendations for community alert systems specific to Canada, such as Community ASAP, at an online national forum on community alert systems for missing older adults last fall.”

A big name in the world of dementia, Beleno is now working to turn Community ASAP into a start-up company, and the research team continues to work with governments and organizations to coordinate a system that works across the country.

“UoW has such a unique ecosystem – it is promoting that we 100 per cent own our intellectual property, it’s not like some other universities where we have to share it; it’s 100 per cent ours,” said Neubauer. “Moreover, the university has many different startup assistance programs. But, at the same time, we have to remain vendor neutral. While we can support a solution, we can’t be the ones that turn it into the company, so everything is in the hands of Beleno.”

Neubauer says they are going to go through UoW and will use that talent as well as all the different resources that they have available to not only help take the prototype that they’ve developed and turn it into the final version of the app, but to also assist Beleno with transferring the app to a company that can start working in other regions across Canada.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Pragya Sehgal
Pragya Sehgal
Born and raised in the capital city of India - Delhi - bounded by the river Yamuna on the west, Pragya has climbed the Himalayas, and survived medical professional stream in high school without becoming a patient or a doctor. Pragya now makes her home in Canada with her husband - a digital/online marketing fanatic who also loves to prepare delicious meals for her. When she isn’t working or writing around tech, she’s probably watching art films on Netflix, or wondering whether she should cut her hair short or not. Can be contacted at [email protected] or 647.695.3494.

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