17-year-old student transforms Alzheimer’s and dementia care worldwide

The Alpha Monitor is designed to detect when individuals with Alzheimer’s fall or wander away from their caregivers.

In the summer of 2018, young Hemesh Chadalavada embarked on a heartwarming journey filled with cherished memories spent with his beloved grandmother, Jayasree, in their family home in Guntur, southern India. The days were adorned with endless movies and the exquisite aroma of her chicken biryani wafting through the air.

At the tender age of 12, Hemesh experienced a moment that would shape his future, a moment of sheer panic and realization that would drive him towards a remarkable mission.

On that fateful evening, while Hemesh sat engrossed in front of the television, Jayasree, then 63, left the room to make a cup of tea. Little did she know that her world, and Hemesh's, were about to change.

As Hemesh ventured into the kitchen, he discovered a gas stove left on, a seemingly innocuous oversight. But for Jayasree, it was a stark reminder of the relentless grip of Alzheimer's disease.

"She had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but I was still in shock. What would have happened if I hadn’t been there?" Hemesh recalls, his voice tinged with the gravity of the situation.

Alzheimer's, a cruel and unforgiving affliction, had stolen away the vibrant and dynamic woman that Jayasree once was. In her prime, she had navigated the corridors of power as a civil servant, engaging with top politicians and policymakers in the state of Telangana. However, the relentless march of Alzheimer's had transformed her into someone unrecognizable.

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"She used to get up at 3 or 4 in the morning and go outside, thinking she was on a train," Hemesh shares, his words underscoring the heartbreaking nature of the disease. Yet, amidst the turmoil of Jayasree's diagnosis, Hemesh found a calling, a purpose that would drive him to make a difference. As a self-confessed nerd from Hyderabad with a passion for robotics, he embarked on a mission to invent a device that could provide assistance to individuals grappling with Alzheimer's, much like his grandmother.

Fast forward to the present day, and at the age of 17, Hemesh Chadalavada is on the cusp of transforming his vision into reality. He is preparing to manufacture a groundbreaking device, the Alpha Monitor, designed to detect when individuals with Alzheimer's fall or wander away from their caregivers. What sets this innovation apart is its ability to operate beyond the confines of traditional devices.

The Alpha Monitor, a lightweight and compact wearable, can be worn as a badge or an armband. It triggers an alarm when the wearer begins to move and immediately notifies a caregiver in case of a fall or wandering episode.

Unlike most similar devices that rely on wifi or Bluetooth, which have limited range and lose connection when the wearer moves out of that range, the Alpha Monitor utilizes LoRa (Long Range) technology. This advanced feature enables the device to detect a person's location from over a mile away in urban areas and up to three miles (5km) in rural settings.

Hemesh's journey to create the Alpha Monitor was not a straightforward one. He embarked on a self-taught path, relying on YouTube videos about robotics and electronics. He tirelessly developed and refined 20 prototypes, all driven by his deep desire to understand the needs of individuals battling Alzheimer's.

To gain a comprehensive understanding of Alzheimer's challenges, Hemesh spent time at a day center run by the Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India. There, he encountered stories that further fueled his determination.

A Bala Tripura Sundari, co-founder of the local society, emphasized the importance of creating a device that was lightweight and wearable on any part of the body. Many Alzheimer's patients are averse to wearing watches, often removing them. Sundari shared a poignant anecdote of her father, who had Alzheimer's and would board auto-rickshaws, traveling miles away before his family realized he had gone.

The heart-wrenching stories Hemesh encountered during his research, coupled with the recent loss of his grandmother Jayasree, served as unwavering motivators. Even with the heavy workload of school, he remained committed to his mission.

"There was one family that searched high and low for their father for two years after he wandered off. They never found him. In the end, they gave up," Hemesh reveals, highlighting the desperate need for solutions in Alzheimer's care.

But the Alpha Monitor doesn't stop at fall detection and location tracking. It also measures vital signs like pulse and temperature, offering a comprehensive approach to patient monitoring. Furthermore, Hemesh is pushing the boundaries of his invention, exploring the integration of machine-learning technology to predict a patient's movement patterns.

In a remarkable turn of events, Hemesh's dedication and ingenuity garnered recognition in 2022 when he triumphed over 18,000 competitors to secure a 10-million-rupee (£100,000) grant from the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest. He was also privileged to work alongside some of Samsung's top engineers, who served as his mentors.

For Hemesh, inventing is not just a duty; it's a passion that has been ingrained in him since a young age. At the tender age of 12, he crafted a "heat detector" designed to monitor his friends' body temperatures while playing cricket. His intention was simple yet profound: to ensure that they could enjoy the sport to the fullest by knowing when to stop due to overheating.

With his school exams set to conclude in March, Hemesh is gearing up to put the finishing touches on the Alpha Monitor, aiming for a market-ready product by September. His unwavering commitment extends to ensuring that the device remains affordable for the majority of people, a testament to his dedication to making a meaningful impact.

Hemesh's aspirations transcend borders. He envisions pursuing higher education in robotics abroad, with a clear objective: "I want to create products to help people in India for the whole world."

With the Alpha Monitor poised to revolutionize the care and safety of Alzheimer's patients, Hemesh Chadalavada is a beacon of hope, a young inventor on a mission to make a profound difference in the lives of those affected by this devastating disease.

For more science news stories check out our New Innovations section at The Brighter Side of News.

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Joseph Shavit
Joseph ShavitSpace, Technology and Medical News Writer
Joseph Shavit is the head science news writer with a passion for communicating complex scientific discoveries to a broad audience. With a strong background in both science, business, product management, media leadership and entrepreneurship, Joseph possesses the unique ability to bridge the gap between business and technology, making intricate scientific concepts accessible and engaging to readers of all backgrounds.