Vancouver teen develops app that detects Alzheimer’s

A student in Vancouver has developed a smartphone app that enables users to detect symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in seniors.

Kai Leong, who attended Killarney Secondary School before his recent graduation, has established a system that measures the way people move whilst walking, known medically as gait.

Early signifiers

The reason this is important is that when the human brain or nervous system experiences forms of breakdown, it can be reflected in the way that people walk. Therefore, building a device that studies these movements can be key to seeing the first stage of something like Alzheimer’s.

In discussing his invention, Leong told Renée Filippone, guest host of The Early Edition,  “What a lot of people don’t realize is that walking patterns are actually validated markers of neurodegenerative diseases… They’re often overlooked because of how expensive and how inaccessible current walking analysis or gait analysis is.”

How does the app work?

In order to get a gait reading, patients put the smartphone in their back pocket where a reading is recorded in the way they walk. This is then put through an algorithm, which Leong made as part of the app, and is compared to those with healthy cognitive function, as well as those with Alzheimer’s, to see how their gait compares.

Although official medical gait readings already exist, Leong says that he is trying to create a device that is more affordable and accessible.

Personal connection

The teenager has spoken about his personal connection with creating the app and his decision to make something that detects the problem from its early stages, saying that when he was younger, his grandmother was diagnosed with the disease but had been previously misdiagnosed with depression.

He also spoke of how creating an app like this wasn’t easy but how, despite all of the coding and system building problems he encountered, it was all part of a long road to success.

“We’re often taught in school to strive for perfection … So I would advise people to never be afraid to fail. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work the first time. Failure is often a stepping stone to success.”

In response to his creation, the 18-year-old has been selected by Youth Science Canada to be part of the China Adolescent Science and Technology Innovation Contest in Macau, China.