Teen Fighting for Those with Dementia Through Innovative New Treatments

by Lauren Taylor from In The Cloud Copy

After completing an internship at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, one Ohio teenager is now working on changing the world for dementia patients through innovative new treatments. The teen, Olivia Wenzel, first started her trek to bettering patients’ lives after she spent time with a patient suffering from cervical dystonia. In this condition, the neck muscles contract involuntarily, causing painful head turning and/or twisting to one side. The patient explained that the treatment he was currently being given was not helping, and he was still experiencing the painful head tremors. Wenzel then went on to create a prototype called TremorLess, which is a wearable device that reduces the head tremors. Creating this device was an accomplishment, but she didn’t stop her venture there.

Improving Life for Dementia Patients

Dementia is something that Olivia is unfortunately familiar with, as she has a family history of the disease. She next felt compelled to work on finding a way to improve dementia patients’ quality of life.

She created a business by the name of AltruTec, and her current project there is called Memorcize. This is a game played through virtual reality that displays nostalgic events and memories from the patient’s past through music and images. This in turn triggers a positive response and conversation from the patient, ultimately improving their agitation, mood, communication, and concentration. It can have real and lasting effects on the behavioral and psychological symptoms they are experiencing as a result of their dementia diagnosis.

Once she had the idea, getting it into production was the next hurdle. Olivia enlisted the help of a biomedical engineer who helped her execute the idea. She also was in touch with local companies, universities, and students to help her tackle and accomplish her goals at AltruTec.

Cleveland Clinic invited the teen to speak at their Innovation Summit, which helped her to grow her team even further.

COVID-19 Pandemic Affects Mental Health

As the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Olivia has seen even more opportunity for her ideas. Caregivers who typically dedicate hours to their loves ones, engaging them emotionally, physically, and socially, are suddenly unable to do so due to the pandemic.

Olivia and her team have a prototype game now that works to engage the minds of and bodies of individuals, hoping to improve social connection. The game involves the player moving through a nostalgic environment. For example, her first environment was a well-known Ohio county fair – the music and characters all appropriately themed and interactive. Her vision is to have the game be joinable by friends and family, further engaging the patient. Currently, this game is played via a computer, but her hope is to have the game eventually available across more devices such as on a television or a mobile device.

Not only are these programs beneficial during the pandemic situation, but they would also be beneficial in long term care facilities where understaffing is a common issue. Knowing that patients could receive additional interaction via these other modes could be of great benefit.

The teen is next tackling her studies in computer science at Harvard University, but doesn’t plan to quit her current ventures. She hopes to continue conducting research and development of new ways to make the world a better place.

Learn more about this story here.

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