Hacking Health aims to create solutions for aging Albertans

11124693895e1caa2510bk(Edmonton) Those who hack together attack problems together. This past weekend at the University of Alberta, students and professionals in computing science, rehabilitation, medicine, design and engineering got together with caregivers to “hack the health problems we face on a daily basis” at the Hacking Health – Edmonton Hackathon. This year’s topic: seniors.

“We are looking at different ideas related to health-care delivery for older adults, and also to improve health and well-being through prevention, education and support,” says Lili Liu, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine and co-lead for the Hackathon in Edmonton. “One example is creating an app that can help older adults with buying groceries and eating healthy on a limited budget.”

Held for the second time in Edmonton Feb. 19-21, the Hackathon (HHYEG2016) is fast-paced and intense. Project leads pitch an idea on Friday and a demonstration of the prototype is presented on Sunday. Health-care professionals, researchers, students and computer developers will gather at the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy at the U of A. The university and its students, alumni and faculty are no strangers to innovation, technology and healthy aging.

“Here at the University of Alberta we have been working on developing technologies related to ambient intelligence, cognitive assessment and mental health,” says Eleni Stroulia, professor in the Department of Computing Science in the Faculty of Science and co-lead of Hacking Health Edmonton. “Hacking Health is important because it brings people from health and technology together. Normally, people from this diverse background do not ‘find’ each other. A Hackathon brings diversity together based on one common objective—the desire to solve a problem everyday people can relate to.”

With the growing aging population in Alberta—one in five Albertans will be over 65 years old by 2031 according to Alberta Seniors—the topic this year affects everyone. Co-sponsored by AGE-WELL NCE (Aging Gracefully across Environments using Technology to Support Wellness, Engagement and Long Life NCE Inc.), the focus of this year’s Hackathon is “to help older Canadians maintain their independence, health and quality of life through accessible technologies that increase their safety and security, support their independent living and enhance their social participation.”

IBM is also a sponsor. IBM provided a workshop a week before the Hackathon on Bluemix and Watson services for developers as an option to use during the Hackathon, and will also provide technical support during the event.

It is not too late to register and pitch ideas. Elly Park, who earned her PhD in rehabilitation science from the U of A, is hoping to create an app or web-based program to support digital storytelling for older adults with dementia.

“I am planning to begin a post-doc in April, and the research project is on digital storytelling. This Hackathon is a great opportunity to build something that I can use for my research,” Park says.

So what happens to the solutions created after the Hackathon is over?

“Some of the apps developed in the Hackathon go to market through startup companies. Some solutions are uploaded to the Internet for users free of charge,” Liu explains. “Business models vary depending on the type, intent and sustainability of the solutions.”

For more information on Hacking Health Edmonton, visit the HHYEG 2016 website.

About Hacking Health Edmonton 2016
HHYEG 2016 has adopted the AGE-WELL theme for the Hackathon as it perfectly aligns with the objective of Hacking Health: to bring innovation to health care and health technology. AGE-WELL NCE is a national research network in technology and aging whose aim is to help older Canadians to maintain their independence, health and quality of life through accessible technologies that increase their safety and security, support their independent living and enhance their social participation. The three-day event brings health-care professionals, researchers and consumers together with programmers and developers to share ideas, collaborate and come up with innovative solutions to ongoing and challenging issues related to aging, health and wellness.

The Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta

As the only free-standing faculty of rehabilitation medicine in North America, the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine’s vision is to be at the forefront of knowledge generation and scholarship in rehabilitation. Through excellent teaching, research and service to the community, the Faculty is committed to enhancing quality of life, promoting participation and autonomy, and improving function for citizens in Alberta and beyond.

A research leader in musculoskeletal health, spinal cord injuries, common spinal disorders (back pain), seniors and dementia and speech-language disorders, the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine aims to inspire the realization of the full potential of individuals, families and communities. The three departments, Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT) and Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) offer professional entry programs. The Faculty offers thesis-based MSc and PhD programs in Rehabilitation Science, attracting students from a variety of disciplines including OT, PT, SLP, psychology, physical education, medicine and engineering.