Kenneth Shinozuka, 17, Inventor

Creating and developing a wearable sensor for people with Alzheimer’s

 

Peace of mind for caregivers now comes in the form of a wearable sensor called SafeWander. Seventeen-year-old Kenneth Shinozuka invented the wearable device. That’s right … 17 years old. He developed the program while still in high school. SafeWander sends an alert to a caregiver’s smartphone whenever the person wearing it gets out of bed. He was inspired by his late grandfather who had Alzheimer’s disease. It was a pleasure interviewing such a mature and sensitive young man for Disrupt Aging.



What does it mean to “own your age”?

We treat our age as something that confines us to one way of living life or “acting our age.” But owning your age is to act as if you didn’t have any age.

How do you view aging, and is there someone who embodies the way you want to age?
It’s something that happens to all of us. A lot of people treat aging as something pessimistic, but I think there’s a lot to look forward to. My father aged very well. And even my grandfather approached Alzheimer’s with a positive attitude.

I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a moment: Should you be doing this at your age?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s important to find a way to tackle the biggest problems in our society. There’s so much technology out there, but the problem is not enough young people are using technology to help the elderly.

What inspires you to keep going and improving?
There were many times, there were so many challenges to surmount that I thought it was impossible to fulfill this goal of producing SafeWander. My personal connection with my grandfather is what kept me going.

What are some barriers you have had to overcome to do what you love at your age?
Definitely a lot of naivete. Being someone who’s young without much experience. I didn’t have a lot of the knowledge to complete SafeWander: the computer science, how to run a business, how to write a business plan. I just tried to approach all that with a lot of excitement.

What advice would you give your older self?
The most important thing is to always be forward-looking.

What is the biggest risk you have taken, and what did you learn about yourself from that?

The entire SafeWander project itself was a huge risk. The biggest risk I felt was the night when I first tested my device with my grandfather. We were all huddled in the living room, waiting to see if my grandfather would get out of bed. The smartphone went off in the middle of the night, and the alert went off and we went into my grandfather’s bedroom. In that one moment, everything felt validated.