Dr. Jane Chen, MD, Stuart Ogawa, Co-founder and CTO & Lindsay Sparks, Forsent Health
With old age comes anxiety, loneliness, dementia and other cognitive impairments that deteriorates the physical and mental health of elderly. Dementia, with 50 million current global cases and almost 10 million new cases every year, overwhelms not only older people but also their caregivers and families. Someone who has struggled to strike a balance between being a family member and a caregiver for an individual having dementia understands the burden, psychological morbidity and financial hardships.
Stuart “Stu” Ogawa, Co-Founder and CTO of Forsent Health Inc., is one among them, having had to take care of his mother suffering from dementia. After becoming a full-time caregiver for his mother, Stu began receiving her calls that came often after midnight, asking repetitive questions and yelling aggressively at him. This would overwhelm Stu and prevent him from performing family responsibilities because he was only getting 3 to 4 hours of daily sleep. Such behavior by patients often destroys the caregivers’ own cognition. The Alzheimer’s organization in the U.S. states that there is a 60 percent burnout rate for caregivers (both familial and professional) each year.
Stu further narrates, “One evening over dinner, I was talking with my wife, and it dawned on us. What if we had a voice-assistant app that could answer Mom’s repetitive questions and comments? This could save us from the sheer physical and mental burnout and could help me revert to a more loving and patient son, father and husband.”
Inspired by this dinner conversation, Stu developed “Eva”, a digital care app to support caregivers and their loved ones. By combining familiar voices to carry on a conversation, reminiscence therapy and AI, Eva helped calm and uplift the social, emotional, and mental health of Stu’s mom and a group of seniors.
“We received early positive results, which led us to invest in a more comprehensive Eva beta research study to assess efficacy and scale.”
Forsent conducted this 2019 research, which turned out to become one of the world’s largest personalized AI conversational and reminiscence research studies involving research of 560,000 minutes, 103 clients, 50 caregivers and 6 North American facilities. Dr. Jane Chen, Forsent’s Chief Medical Officer and Co-Founder, spearheaded this research with feedback and assistance from Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Forsent’s medical board of advisor. “The results from this 9 month study were very positive and resulted in greater efficacy than we thought possible” said Stu. The Economist’s recent 2020 Special Report on Dementia quoted Dr.Kurokawa, that “data tech is progressing much faster than biotech.”
As the brain of clients with dementia declines, Eva leverages the power of data science by mapping the intermittent and declining moods and behaviors and by dynamically adapting the digital content with familiar voice conversations. “Family members witness their mom or dad positively engaging and laughing when using Eva, which means the world to the family while reducing their stress, anxiety and guilt” says Wilfred So, head of operations at Forsent.
Wilfred recalls one significant client example. The client was monitored for two months prior to Eva usage, and she required 20 sedatives during this two month window just to keep her calm. The team then deployed Eva after this baseline period. Almost immediately the family and caregivers began seeing positive behavior and mood changes with Eva assistance. This led to a reduction of only two sedatives being administered during the two months with Eva assistance. The caregivers and family saw their loved one much more happy, singing and engaging with all people.
These experiences became the genesis for Forsent’s mission: “To become the world’s most loved assistant” says Stu. To achieve this mission, Forsent developed proprietary technology that incorporates the psychological and behavioral models from Dr. Chen. The Forsent team also brainstormed with the Google Brain team implementing DialogFlow for voice conversations and TensorFlow for machine learning. The first Eva Android beta version was subsequently released on the Google PlayStore earlier this year and an Apple iOS smartphone and tablet beta version will be released at the end of 2020.
“Everyone needs help striking a balance taking care of their seniors aging in place, their family and themselves, and we need to help families around the world experience this joy and laughter for themselves.” says Stu.