26-year-old Rhian Convery believes she was always destined for a career in science. But it was the death of her grandmother, Sadie, who suffered from dementia, that really solidified her passion for helping people with the disease.
“I was always a nerdy scientist from a young age and studied psychology. After losing my grandma, I knew that I wanted to help in some way and contribute to the research of dementia,” says Rhian. “My grandfather is now also living with the condition so there is definitely that personal attachment there.”
Now Rhian is a student at London’s Dementia Research Centre, and she’s developing a new iPad app, called Ignite, that’s designed to spot the early warning signs of dementia.
“As part of my PhD, I continued working on the Ignite app and realised it needed further development for it to be fit for a validation study,” says Rhian. “During lockdown, I worked with software development companies and have developed the new app exclusively for iPad.”
The application features several games that analyze different brain functions that may be affected by dementia, such as emotion recognition and problem-solving.
“Although there aren’t any current treatments for dementia, there are preclinical trials underway,” says Rhian. “When they are eventually developed, they will be most effective in the early stages. The point of this app is to detect those signs early on and help provide research into possible treatments. After coronavirus, resources in hospitals and with GPs are spread so thinly, so apps like this can be used from the comfort of people’s homes and gives people the opportunity to become involved in dementia research.”
Ignite is now in its testing phase. With help from the general public, Rhian hopes it might become a vital tool in the early recognition and diagnosis of dementia so that it can be treated most effectively.
“Dementia is so common now. The prevalence is so high because everyone is affected by it in some way or another,” says Rhian.
Healthy volunteers are now invited to help test Ignite by taking a 30-minute test to establish a baseline for “normal” performance.
“I need lots of people from the general population to download the app and complete the assessment before we can use it to help those with dementia,” says Rhian.
We are still a ways off from having a cure for dementia, but if we all work together to help scientists learn more about this disease, we could conquer it in no time!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?