Facebook invites tech nerds to hack dementia - Macleans.ca

Facebook invites tech nerds to hack dementia

Jordan Banks and Shaharris Beh consider the possibilities of HackerNest



Imagine if a person with dementia could tap a device on a television, microwave or laundry machine and instantly be reminded how to use it. Technologies like this emerged from last year’s DementiaHack, a “hackathon” that incubates hundreds of tech and medical professionals, along with the general public, to create tools for people living with dementia—a condition experienced by about 750,000 Canadians and 15 per cent of Canadians aged 65 and older.

The event, held this year at Toronto’s George Brown College on Nov. 7- 8, is organized by Facebook Canada and HackerNest, a not-for-profit aimed at using technology for economic development. This weekend, as early registrants began dividing into teams and pitching ideas, Maclean’s spoke with Jordan Banks, managing director of Facebook Canada, and Shaharris Beh, director of HackerNest.

Q. What is a “hackathon”?

Shaharris Beh: It’s a coding competition where nerds get together, sit together for 24, 36, 48 hours and work on cobbling together solutions. You’re forced to work fast, so it cuts out a lot of the fat.

Jordan Banks: They’re hugely productive. Many of Facebook’s features have come out of hackathons—our newsfeed, some of our birthday functionality.

Q. Why the focus on dementia?

Shaharris Beh: The British government came to HackerNest last year. They said one of our Millenium Development Goals is to tackle dementia. They saw it affecting millions of people and came to us. [The U.K. government sponsors the event.] The vast majority of hackathons are full of Red Bull and pizza, but this one is all about coming up with solutions and getting them into the hands of people who need them.

Jordan Banks: I’ve had five grandparents who have had Alzheimer’s. I’ve been involved in raising money for two decades, so I thought, how could I combine my work with this commitment to helping dementia? One of the myths is that it’s an older person’s disease. We’re seeing early onset dementia among people at 45. It’s not just the disease of the 70- or 80-year-old. It’s the disease of everybody.

Q. How will DementiaHack work?

Shaharris Beh: We have been advised on the acute areas of need. People have come and said, “If you do this, it will make our lives better.” There are four key areas: the inpatient, the family caregiver, who often feels isolated, the institutional caregiver, and researchers. Researchers are dealing with datasets so vast and diverse, they need help figuring out how to get their heads around them. We have a series of team-matching sessions before November. It’s free—we ask for $42 ahead of time, but when they show up to the event, we give the money back. We want to reward people for doing the work. We’re even providing daycare.

Jordan Banks: We stay up for 30 hours straight—that’s very fun. For most hackathons, 90 per cent of people sign up in the week before the hackathon. We’re a month out and already have half[(150 registrants]. That’s unheard of. It’s a real indication that young people are not going to let [dementia] ravage our parents and our grandparents.

Q. One of the main symptoms of dementia is impaired judgment. Given that Facebook documents a person’s online comments and activity, should people with dementia use Facebook at all?

Jordan Banks: There are myriad decisions to be made: should they drive? We’re thinking about how we can use Facebook as an early indicator. Family and friends can see how, for example, the person is talking about a journey they didn’t go on or having lunch with a friend they didn’t have lunch with. Can we use those as early alerts that maybe the person should see a doctor? The most important thing is early diagnosis.

Q. DementiaHack is focused on creating tools for people to cope with symptoms, but could hackathons help us find a cure?

Jordan Banks: There will be many cases when researchers will need to look at data to come closer to a cure, in maybe five years, 10 years, 15 years. We can help make that data analysis easier. We can’t let this wait. Dementia has potential to cripple our economy.

Shaharris Beh: We want to make sure that, coming out of this hackathon, we have immediate tools people can use. At a hackathon, you get to create something from start to finish. That is a beautiful thing.


Facebook invites tech nerds to hack dementia

  1. It has been suggested I should ask the media to help point out mentally ill leaders and those in chains of command. For surveillance agencies now this may be impossible. I suspect some post Cold War hawkish foreign policies towards Cold War dictators are designed to avert such. All the different ways I might meet my doom at the hands of mentally ill people, have been suggested (after any religious bioterror attack religion will be shunned, dating a crazy man’s gf, being mistaken as a too powerful godlike figure, random obsession above 6/10, hated by Christians as society reaches towards a utopia…). But 2/1 more important is to avoid a mentally ill leader having WMDs, and it is harder to remove from power than to prevent in the 1st place. There are six major mental illnesses to be aware of:
    verbally attacking strangers, not maintaining train of thought, not letting others converse in a conversation…cover most of non-age mental illnesses. It is a lack of (healthy) Beta Waves when analyzing a task/problem that can identify a mental illness (they have alpha instead). Slightly wrong biz model I have with my handle.

    • I had a nice ending from them to a typical dystopian dream of resisting a dystopia. It was Dutch, Al Bundy lifting a child. My father started to get dementia when I was 9 via codeine and money mismanagement. So the CIA is right to screen for both. I also need to watch out for mentally ill family, moreso, and workplaces as athletes have pointed out. They kill me 2/1 more than sane people, but less than even if I’m “careful”.
      I can’t take my biosensor network too far if the agencies are mentally ill. The NSA should screen everyone for mental illness. Then all agencies need to come up with a methodology with which to accept biotests that are likely a false positive, but that might just be a Spanish flu (I run at 30% fatality) or worse….and if it is known how to make a worse pandemic, hacker-types will attempt construction, so that is why the Surveillance Agencies of the world should be like ETC Group and target all synthetic biology actors. I figured the #3 was #1, but the #1 is financially obvious and made friends with #2 easily enough. All top 20 are USA or Europe.
      I need someone classified to accept the biotest information or else so many other people will try to end civilization that it will be worse than me getting married to a rape victim. Apparently I’ll be ready in two yrs to begin a sensor network for flu for starters that is able to use blood and report the ability to locate flu that is novel enough to be better than anything else that exists until another decade without the help of the other person who loved me as much.

  2. I have a suggestion to work on for inpatients a screen devise on the wall that comes on at night if the person sits up that says “you are in hospital stay in bed to get help” push the button and then simple instructions as to where the bell is or for people who can no longer read an audio device near the head of the bed or a motion sensor that rings the bell for the nurse