App for Alzheimer’s: HSE student Rahil Thanawala’s creation aids dementia patients

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By Anna Skinner

Rahil Thanawala is 15 years old. Like many high school students, he spends his time playing tennis, volunteering and participating in Boy Scouts.

But for the past five years, Thanawala has been working on something a little out of the ordinary. He has created The SnapLink, a mobile app aimed to help dementia and Alzheimer’s patients improve memory of family members.

He had a personal connection to motivate him in his grandmother’s struggle with her Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

“I started what I was doing five years ago,” he said. “I noticed my grandmother had started to slowly lose memory and was not able to recall things and family members, especially. So then a couple years ago, I started making these picture puzzles for my grandmother with pictures of family members on them. I thought it would be a cool idea, and I started trying it with my grandmother. I saw improvement, she was able to recall things more easily – she still had Alzheimer’s disease of course – but recognizing family members was easier.”

Thanawala approached Eli Lilly and IUPUI with his idea and received positive feedback. He was 13 years old at the time.

In 2014, he held his first seminar about his idea and began working to develop The SnapLink app. He fundraised through a crowd-funding site to raise money and hired a developer to create his app.

“I worked with the developer and wanted to retain the idea of picture therapy and the idea of matching puzzles and seeing family members. So, I’m almost done with the app,” Thanawala said. “It will have picture puzzles, a story teller, a calendar, and we are still deciding the fourth function. Primarily, the idea is to serve as a simple app, which Alzheimer’s disease patients and their caregivers can work together with, and as a therapy technique. There will be drugs coming out for Alzheimer’s disease, but therapy is still important because sometimes, drugs won’t work or won’t be effective with certain people.”

No doubt, Thanawala admitted he wants to be a doctor after high school.

The SnapLink will officially launch Oct. 23 at the Ruth Lilly Learning Center at IUPUI. For more on his upcoming seminar and how to attend, visit thesnaplink.org.

And after his years of self-administered therapy with his grandma, Thanawala said he can notice the difference.

“There are very strong symptoms if you look at it that way, she thinks she’s in past years and doesn’t know her surroundings, but playing with these picture puzzles and trying to keep her engaged, she remembers her family members and recognizes them very well,” Thanawala said. “She talks in the past and lives in the past, but that’s a normal thing, but she’s able to recognize people. It’s important to keep recognition of family members, so that’s what we try to do with this therapy is having it in her mind, so she doesn’t forget.”

His grandmother has lived with Alzheimer’s for 16 years and still lives at home.

Children of Power

In addition to his recent success with The SnapLink’s development, 15-year-old Rahil Thanawala was selected as one of five children for the 2016 National Power of Children Award. The award is given by the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and was established in 2004.

The award recognizes children in grades six through 11 that “improve the lives of others through selfless commitment to service and the betterment of society.”

The recipients will be honored Nov. 11, and they also will receive a $2,000 grant from Kroger Foundation to expand their projects. Recipients will also able to choose a partial scholarship from IUPUI, University of Indianapolis or Butler University.

The recipients are Cameron Northern of Martinsville, Anthony O’Leary of San Diego, Calif., Julia Robinson of Indianapolis, Renita Zaparde of Plainsboro, N.J., and Thanawala.


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