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Caregiver Hackathon Winner Coming to App Store Near You, Maybe

The Lynchburg College Caring for the Caregivers hackathon team beat groups from six other universities at the third annual event. (Lynchburg College)
The Lynchburg College Caring for the Caregivers hackathon team beat groups from six other universities at the third annual event. (Lynchburg College)
November 30, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. -- College students who won a recent hacking contest say they they now have a phone app to help family caregivers that they feel is worth putting on the market.

The team from Lynchburg College won the third annual Caring for the Caregivers hackathon - co-sponsored by AARP - in early November. Grad student and team coder Karel Bemis said in one day, they came up with an Android app to help caregivers take better care of themselves, by making their needs more visible.

"Day to day, they have so many things to do and they're not being thanked for it, really. And so they feel very invisible, that they can't find time for themselves,” Bemis said. "So that's why we called our application Visible Me."

Bemis said the app makes taking care of yourself tangible through growing an electronic garden or caring for a cyber pet. The team won $5,000 in prize money, plus another $5,000 in seed capital and ten hours with a business lawyer - with the aim of making the app commercially available.

Bemis said the app is designed so that a caregiver can earn points by meeting goals they set for themselves - doing small things to care for their own mind, body, spirit and social life. He said during the hack, they were teamed with a caregiver. They came up with the idea of the garden or the pet based on what that caregiver said she used to enjoy doing with her mother.

"They used to love to go out to the garden, and I said, 'Well, that's a great idea,'” he said. "And so you could earn points. You can buy a dog house, or you can buy pet food, or grow more plants."

Bemis said members of the team had been caregivers before. And he said they really wanted to make something flexible enough to let caregivers set realistic goals for themselves.

"Maybe you don't have time to go to the gym for 12 hours. But maybe you have to time to do five push-ups,” he said. "Or maybe you'd want to drink two glasses of water every day, just to make sure you're at least getting a little bit of water in you."

According to AARP, about 1.5 million family caregivers in Virginia provide an average of 20-40 hours of care each week, largely unpaid.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA