Student creates Parkinson’s app that monitors falls

Interface Systems awards student $5K 'Tech for Good' scholarship

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by Mary Chapman |

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Interface Systems has awarded Northwestern University student Laura Felix a $5,000 “Tech for Good” scholarship for creating an app that helps caregivers manage falls by Parkinson’s disease patients.

Felix is studying computer science and physics at the university and the one-time scholarship is for the 2022-2023 academic year.

Interface also granted this year’s $5,000 “Women in STEM” scholarship to Lily Chen, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematics and computer science student, for her work to improve healthcare affordability and accessibility through data solutions.

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Interface created the scholarships to support U.S. college students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs.

Recipients must have a passion for using technology to remedy real-world problems, according to Interface. Felix and Chen were selected from a pool of 500 applicants from U.S. universities.

“We are so pleased to announce that Ms. Felix and Ms. Chen are this year’s “Tech for Good” and “Women in STEM” scholarship award recipients. In addition to their academic excellence, their essays clearly demonstrated how technology can be applied to change social, environmental, and economic outcomes for the better,” Brent Duncan, Interface CEO, said in a press release.

“Through these scholarships, we are proud to support students from diverse backgrounds on their path to becoming scientists, innovators, and engineers,” Duncan added.

Felix’s application focused on the development of an app designed to help caregivers of people with Parkinson’s disease monitor and respond to patients’ falls or other life-threatening situations.

As Parkinson’s disease progresses, patients frequently develop axial symptoms — those that affect the spine, chest, and joints connecting the spine to the hips. These symptoms can include balance, posture, and walking problems, including freezing of gait.

Freezing of gait is characterized by an inability to lift the foot and take a step, as if the feet are “glued” to the floor. It often occurs when the patient starts to walk, turn, or pass obstacles.

Balance problems and freezing of gait increase the risk of falls. Compared with the general population, and controlled for age and gender, people with Parkinson’s are twice as likely to fall. It’s believed that about 60% of people with Parkinson’s disease fall each year.

Due largely to balance problems and poorer bone health, Parkinson’s patients are at increased risk of potentially disabling hip and non-vertebral fractures. Such injuries can lead to extended hospitalizations, more use of skilled nursing facilities, and ultimately, nursing home placement.