A Feel-Good Story: Memory Haven-The App That Helps People With Dementia
By Paige Francis
Three teenage girls in Ireland recently won the international competition, known as Technovation Girls, where participants create an app that could help improve their community. The three girls created an app called Memory Haven that is aimed to help people with dementia.
The Nigerian-Irish winners of the competition are Rachael Akano, Margaret Akano, and Joy Njekwe. The three of them were lead by their mentor, Evelyn Nomayo. Evelyn is an Afro-Irish developer and the founder of Phase Innovate, which is an organization that trains and mentors underrepresented minorities and women in tech. When Evelyn told Rachael, Margaret, and Joy about her mother, who suffered from dementia, the girls were inspired to make a change. They began to research and plan out their ideas and, by the time the 12-week challenge was over, they had created Memory Haven.
Memory Haven beat more than 1,500 submissions from 62 countries, and is full of great features for people with dementia. The app has six features that target the three main problems people with dementia face: memory loss, difficulty with recognition, and speech. The app also has a reminder feature that alerts both the patient and the caregiver. This notification helps caregivers and patients know when it's time for medication or time to do some memory activities. Memory activities include photo albums, music, outreach, face and voice recognition, and memory games. Rachel explained the activities and how they work in detail in an NPR interview.. “The memory game allows [a user] to put their cognitive ability to the test while promoting memory retention in a fun way and improving focus and speed. The face and voice recognition feature makes it easy for users to identify their friends and family. Then research suggests that musical memories are the least affected by dementia, so we created a music feature for personal playlists.” Clearly, based on the amount of research and development that went into making Memory Haven, this team put a lot of effort into the app. When it officially launches, it will surley help people with dementia (and caregivers) tremendously.
Unfortunately, this empowering team faced discrimination not only for being women, but also for being people of color. Evelyn has worked in the tech industry for several years, and is often questioned by her male counterparts. She said that they would constantly doubt her intelligence and ask, “Can she do this? Can she not do that?” Rachael also explained that, when the Irish Times announced that the three of them had made it to the finals of Technovation Girls, they received numerous nice comments. “...but the negative ones just naturally stick with you. People said we weren't Irish and that we didn't deserve to represent the country. They put a monkey face [to represent a black girl's face]. Just crazy, crazy oceans of racism for absolutely no reason.” Racheal continued to express how surprised she was that her parents expected this reaction.. “I remember running to my parents and saying, ‘Mom, dad: Look what they are saying about us.’ And my dad said, ‘Guess you better get used to it.’” Hopefully, the success of their app will blow the haters away.
Rachael, Margaret, and Joy’s ambitions don’t stop here. Margaret is currently in medical school, and hopes to specialize in precision medicine. Racheal wants to go into international business and IT, and Joy is getting ready for college and looking into computer science and engineering. They all like to listen to music and play sports as well. Soon, we should see their success skyrocket, and their app will help the lives of people with dementia improve.