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Student Hackathon: Creating Solutions for Family Caregivers

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Thursday, March 31, 2016   

RICHMOND, Va. - University students staying up all night isn't unusual unless they're "hacking" solutions for folks who struggle to care for family members.

Teams from seven Virginia colleges worked 25 hours straight in the second annual "Caring for the Caregiver Hack."

James Madison University's team won for an app called My Time, which reminds caregivers to take a few moments for themselves.

Faculty advisor and associate professor Morgan Benton says they learned that's an issue from the caregiver they were paired with; a woman who spent a decade caring for her husband with Alzheimer's.

He says their focus was amazing.

"Absolutely immersed in solving a problem for a real, flesh-and-blood person," says Benton. "This is an extremely powerful experience. This is how education should be."

The SeniorNavigator's Lindsay Institute for Innovations in Caregiving hosted this month's "hack" in Richmond.

AARP was among the sponsors and Bob Stephen, vice-president, Caregiving and Health Programs at with AARP was a judge. He says it wasn't all about technology.

Stephen says JMU's idea was to use social media platforms like Facebook to connect caregivers.

So, a caregiver could check in to relate that they'd taken a little time for themselves or if they don't, their peers are prompted to follow up.

"For many family caregivers, it's about time," says Stephen. How do you spend your time? And I was just really impressed with particularly the way that JMU was able to have that come through in terms of a solution."

AARP estimates a million Virginians provide unpaid, family care - in fact, they provide 80 percent of state's long-term care and Stephen says that number is just going to grow.

But he says there is hope that creative ideas can help them. He adds the Lindsay Institute has lined up $10,000 for a "Hackathon" Phase Two.

"The teams will get to rethink their solutions and they can apply," Stephen says. "But then, this $10,000 can be used to help build out the concept even further."

The JMU team won $5,000 and a chance to see if their app can make it to market. And family caregivers get creative solutions from some college kids.


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