Your digital companion for dementia care
Meet the Edinburgh alumna behind a new one-stop platform for dementia care.
My name is Pooja Jain and I see technology as an enabler that can transform the way families experience dementia. It has already transformed many industries, yet social care seems to have been left behind. Last year, I co-founded CogniHealth with fellow Edinburgh graduates Giulia Melchiorre and Pranav Shakti. By combining our academic knowledge with innovative technologies, we are developing solutions that can improve the lives for all those affected by dementia.
Originally, my interest in dementia was a purely scientific one. I was fascinated with the workings of the brain and questions like: What makes us ‘us’? How do we learn? What happens when things go wrong? So I chose to study neuroscience at Edinburgh.
Very quickly I learned that studying diseases of the brain from a scientific angle is very different to the understanding the human day-to-day experience of being affected by a disease. The smallest alteration within our brains can cause a cascade of changes to our personal and professional lives.
I started to get a sense of what it actually meant to live with dementia when I met a family affected by the syndrome at a neuroscience conference two years ago. They explained how so many people in their situation were struggling with post-diagnosis support. I left the conference determined to use my scientific background to support families affected by dementia. I just didn’t know how.
What I did know was I first had to understand what it meant to be a carer, so I worked for a care agency for six months. I supported families affected by dementia and gained an understanding of how it impacts family dynamics, both in good terms and bad. Being a carer gave me the drive and commitment to use scientific knowledge to develop a solution that enables families to live well with dementia. A few months later, I founded CogniHealth with Giulia (whose background is in neuroscience with a special interest in dementia) and Pranav (whose background is in economics and finance) to bring my ambitions to life.
Knowing that every family will have a unique journey with dementia and, therefore, needs a personalised solution, we developed CogniCare, a digital companion for families and friends looking after someone with dementia.
CogniCare supports families every step of the way and unites all aspects of dementia care in one place, making it easy for them to access support from their own homes. Carers can share their care needs with the app and it will suggest tailored solutions.
It’s important for carers to look after themselves too, especially as responsibilities and demand increases as the dementia progresses. Through CogniCare, carers can not only access advice on self-care, but also connect with their community to receive support from local groups and services. We believe that through our platform, we can keep carers in their jobs for longer, prevent avoidable incidents, reduce hospital visits, and help them stay a part of their community.
Supportive healthcare technologies need to be easily accessible for the families who use them. Therefore, we have started to make CogniCare available through Amazon Alexa, a voice-based interactive technology. You can enable CogniCare as a ‘skill’ in Alexa and ask about the different types of symptoms, what causes them and advice on how to treat them. But this is just the beginning. Our vision is to create an active conversation between the carer and Alexa, making the use of CogniCare a truly interactive experience.
With as much luck as determination, I was able to pitch to the CEO of Alzheimer Scotland in March last year. He liked our idea as he saw the synergy between Alzheimer Scotland’s digital mission and our work, and this was a turning point for us. Our partnership has not only enabled me to start working for CogniHealth full-time but also gave us validation, important support and networking opportunities in the dementia space.
Around the same time I started engaging with Professor Craig Ritchie from the Centre of Dementia Prevention at the University of Edinburgh. Craig has been incredibly supportive and we are working with his team of clinicians and researchers to develop CogniCare.
We are working closely with the third sector, researchers and private companies to unite all aspects of dementia care and enable early intervention and even preventative care. By creating a unique ecosystem, families will – for the first time – have access to holistic support from their own homes.
Seizing every opportunity
Taking an idea and turning it into a business has been incredibly challenging over the last year, with its legal and financial hurdles. Every day is filled with new tasks that I don’t know how to do. But I learned to keep going despite all the knockdowns and found that it’s okay to be upset about them, as long as you learn from it and keep at it.
Luckily, Edinburgh is the perfect base for CogniHealth. Scotland, especially Edinburgh, is a fantastically supportive ecosystem for startups. There are lots of different organisations, programmes, and people willing and able to help.
We have received initial support from LAUNCH.ed, the free service offering support to student entrepreneurs, which is part of Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s commercialisation service. They are sponsoring my entrepreneur visa, giving me the chance to work on CogniHealth in the UK.
Also with Edinburgh Innovations’ support, I was able to secure a Royal Society of Edinburgh Unlocking Ambition Fellowship, which has provided both financial and business support, helping us bring our solution to the market.
The RBS accelerator and the Wayra AI and Blockchain Accelerator helped in growing our network and giving us a platform to connect with people and organisations that we would have not been able to access otherwise. Last year I was part of AccelerateHER, a programme run by Investing Women to support women in business. Winning a place at the California Trade Mission through the AccelerateHER Growth Competition held by Investing Women has been a phenomenal experience, both for myself and CogniHealth.
Being part of these programmes has changed my mindset. By having so many different people believe in me, I learned to dream bigger than ever before, and to work relentlessly to turn my dreams into a reality. I am incredibly thankful to all the people and organisations that have shaped us and helped us get to where we are today.
Share your feedback
If you know someone affected by dementia, please download CogniCare. It is free to download on the App Store, Google Play and now even Alexa. You can enable the CogniCare skill on your Amazon Alexa app and if you have any questions about dementia or dementia care, just ask! If you want to share your experience with dementia, personal or your research – do get in touch. We would love your feedback!
Let’s create a world where people affected by dementia have a better quality of life today.