Post image for Teen Steps Up With His Invention to Help Those Living With Alzheimer’s

Sometimes the mother of invention isn’t necessity, it’s a 15-year old boy scout.

Kenneth Shinozuka wants to become a neuroscientist and find a cure for Alzheimer’s, a disease that has nearly incapacitated his grandfather.  Someday, he may well accomplish this goal, but right now Shinozuka is still in high school, and instead of a cure, he has invented something that will help  millions of people who have Alzheimer’s.

Shinozuka calls his device Safe Wander and it is aimed at people with memory loss who also wander.

Wandering is exactly what Shinozuka’s grandfather, Deming, has done for several years.  Deming was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease eleven years ago when Shinozuka was only a youngster.

His family worried about his grandfather’s safety, especially after Deming wandered away one evening and was found by police on a freeway a full two miles from home.  Another concern was the additional burden the wandering placed on Shinozuka’s aunt who is Deming’s primary caregiver.

In an interview he gave to Fast Company, Shinozuka talked about the wander issue, “About two years ago, my grandfather started wandering out of bed, which caused a lot of accidents,” he says. “My aunt had to stay awake all night to keep an eye on him and, even then, often failed to catch him leaving the bed.”

Shinozuka thought this was a problem he could solve.

He went to work and created Safe Wander, a small, thin pressure sensor worn on the bottom of a person’s foot or with a sock.  The device detects any increase in pressure and the sensor wirelessly sends an alert to a caregiver’s smartphone.

Now when Shinozuka’s grandfather gets out of bed at night, Safe Wander alerts his aunt via an app (which he also designed) on her smartphone.  So far, the device has successfully alerted 437 times with no false reports.

Not only is Safe Wander accurate, it is also quiet.  Other wander detection devices are often uncomfortable for the person to wear and they often make loud noises, which can traumatize the person who is wandering as well as frighten other residents.

You may be thinking: That’s a cool invention, but is there really a market for such a device? According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 60 percent of the 5.3 million American living with Alzheimer’s wander, most often at night.  This invention will help all of these people as well as the millions of caregivers who are going without sleep.

Shinozuka’s Safe Wander and the app has already won first prize at the $50,000 Scientific American Science in Action Award that is part of the Google Science Fair.  Safe Wander is still in the running for other Google Science Fair awards to be announced next week.

When Shinozuka was profiled recently on NBC Nightly News, he indicated he wants to focus his career on finding solutions for those with Alzheimer’s disease.  “I’d like to solve some of the mysteries of the brain, and invent tools to ultimately, I think, cure Alzheimer’s and other mental conditions that our aging population suffers from,” he said.

Personally, reading about Shinozuka’s invention and his future goals makes me feel a tiny bit more confident that a cure will be found for Alzheimer’s.  We need more innovators like him on the front line of fighting the disease and finding tools to help those who already have it.

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Post image for Do I Long to Be a Grandmother? This Baby Boomer Says, ‘No, Thank You’

Sunday, Sept. 7 is National Grandparents Day. I thought about this day of recognition when my best friend told me she and her husband will soon have another grandchild, their sixth. My friend is excited, and she can’t wait to learn if it is boy or girl and what name the parents will choose.

When baby arrives, there will be a shower with gifts of soft blankets, tiny outfits and colorful, tactile toys.

I’m delighted for my friend. I love her children, their spouses and their passel of children. Watching their infants grow into toddlers and on into childhood is fun and often wildly entertaining. I’m always grateful when my friend and her family include me in celebrations of weddings, baby showers, birthdays, family gatherings and more.

I enjoy being there, but at the end of the day, I’m always happy to say goodbye and return home.

Home to my books, music, writing and the adorable puppy I adopted a few months ago.

I am happy to be home and happy to be grandchildless.

Not craving grandbabies is a realization I’ve come to over time. For many years, I’d been playing a bit of a charade with friends and family.   When they would pull out pictures of their grandkids, I’d dutifully look at the snapshots on their smartphone and then say with a pout, “Don’t you think having four grandkids is a bit greedy, when some of us have none?” This little joke always generated a laugh and a comeback from the person, “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll have grandchildren someday!”

I’d laugh along. But all the while I’d be thinking, “I’m not so sure.”

Not so sure I will have them and not so sure I want them.

After a lot of soul-searching, I’ve come to the realization that that while I enjoy looking at the baby pictures and hearing stories about the baby, I do not yearn for the actual baby.

I do not feel the need to rock a baby, spoil a toddler or experience a do-over, correcting mistakes I made in my parenting. I do not care if my genes continue for another generation.

Among baby boomers, of which I am one, I am certainly an anomaly.   My generation has embraced grandparenthood like baby ducklings to water.

Most boomer grandparents, intent on being the best, are deeply involved in their grandkids lives. From the very first, they make their spare bedrooms into nurseries, tote diaper bags and babysit for parent date nights. Later, the same grandparents take the kids to ballet lessons, attend preschool recitals and debate the pros and cons of all-day kindergarten.

AARP reports that baby boomers have even pushed the average age of becoming a first-time grandparent down to a youthful 47.

I’m at the other end of the spectrum. When I was 47, my daughter, Katie, was in fourth grade.

Could my lack of interest in grandchildren be blamed on the fact that I had my only child later in life? By the time Katie might be ready to procreate, I’d be well over age 70.

Certainly, I’d be no spring chicken but then again I’d had a wonderful grandmother who was around this same age when I was born. While my grandmother always seemed elderly, my sisters and I adored her. In fact, my relationship with her was the happiest part of my childhood.

So if age isn’t an issue, what is the issue? Do I want to avoid grandchildren because I’m divorced, which means I’ll never grandparent with my former spouse? Am I set in my ways? Am I selfish or even narcissistic? Am I missing the Nana-maternal gene?

Call it what you want. I can best describe it as a preference.

While I’m no doubt in the minority, I don’t think I’m entirely alone. I’m betting there are other boomers out there who do not feel that burning desire to be a grandparent.

When I told my sister about my lack of interest in a grandchild, she promptly pointed out having or not having a grandchild was not my decision. Of course, this is entirely true. The decision rests with Katie.

Katie, a college student, is currently spending part of her senior year studying abroad. At age 21, having a child is not on her agenda. Her current life plan is to travel the world, live in big cities, have romances, write a great novel or at the very least edit a few great novels penned by others.

When I was her age, I felt much the same. There was so much I wanted to do, and children were not on my radar. Years later, I married and eventually changed my mind about having a child. Every single day, I’m happy I opted for parenthood.

Will Katie change her mind?

She might. I’ve no idea what lies ahead. When I recently told Katie about my lack of interest in becoming a grandmother, she rolled her eyes and laughed. However, a few minutes later she admitted it felt good not to have the added pressure of being an only child and expected to produce grandchildren for her aging parents.

However, if my daughter does choose motherhood at a future point, I’d be supportive and as involved as she would allow. I’m sure I’d fall in love with her children. I’d no doubt take endless pictures and videos and then share them with everyone. I’d probably pick a name like Mimi or Grammie.

But if it doesn’t happen, I’m okay with that path. My daughter and I can travel together and each lead full, happy lives. And, when National Grandparents Day comes around every September, I’ll be happy to enjoy my best friend’s grandkids and then happily go home.

*Photo Purchased From iStockPhoto


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In Retrospect: Five Lessons I Learned From My Years as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver

August 12, 2014
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Why is life so much clearer in retrospect? With the passage of time, it is easy to look back, see the big picture and think: “If I’d only known then, what I know now.” I often hear caregivers voice this sentiment. And, as a long-time Alzheimer’s caregiver myself (for my mother, father and other relatives […]

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Can a Person Ever Be Fully Prepared to Care For Someone with Alzheimer’s?

August 5, 2014
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Earlier this year, I attended a caregivers conference at the University of Minnesota.  The morning keynote speaker was absolutely terrific — an engaging, informed speaker who was also funny and self-deprecating. The speaker’s bio was also impressive.  He was a physician, a teacher, an author as well as a long-time caregiver for his mother who […]

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AARP Feature: When Dementia Symptoms Are Not Alzheimer’s Disease

July 30, 2014
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Although it was years ago, I clearly remember the phone ringing on a hot California morning.  My mother was calling from Minnesota and she sounded a bit frantic.  Earlier that morning, she had taken my dad to the emergency room.  Dad was having a “spell” as she described it, exhibiting confusion, irregular heart rate, muscle […]

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The Mini-Cog, A Memory Assessment Tool

July 24, 2014
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Have you heard of the “Mini-Cog”?  I had read about it several years ago but a recent front page feature in the Star Tribune, our major daily newspaper in the Twin Cities, piqued my interest.  The story focused on Dr. Michael Rosenbloom, clinical director of the HealthPartners Center for  Memory and Aging, in St. Paul, […]

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