Paul Lea: How an app called MAX is making a difference

Paul Lea

At age 56, Paul Lea was working as a quality control auditor at Levi Strauss when he suffered a massive stroke in 2008 and was diagnosed with vascular dementia.

Lea was determined to continue living in his Toronto apartment. He set about renovating, wrote a book and became an advocate for people living with dementia.

“Since my diagnosis, I’ve had to learn my limits, but I’ve also accomplished things that no one would have expected,” Lea wrote in a blog for the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

For Lea, like many people living with dementia, one of the challenges is keeping track of medications. He needs to take seven medications throughout the day.

But these days, it’s a lot easier thanks to a new app that reminds people to take their medications or go to appointments. MAXminder™ is a personal aide, coming to market with support from AGE-WELL, for older adults with mild cognitive impairment, scheduling and reminding them and their caregivers about medications and daily activities.

MAX has been designed for and tested with people who will ultimately use it, and is now available in “beta mode” for anyone who wants to check it out.

MAXminder’s medication reminders include photo-realistic images of actual pills, showing their shapes and colours.

Lea was introduced to the app in his role as an advisor for Open Collaboration for Cognitive Accessibility, an AGE-WELL-supported startup that uses an inclusive approach where people with dementia and cognitive disabilities provide feedback on whether products and services are usable and practical.

As an advisor, Lea offered input on MAX that included suggesting a way for users to edit their entries. He loves the app, especially its pop-up reminders of the seven medications he needs to take daily.

The app’s simple menus are easier to navigate than a typical Google or Outlook calendar, says Lea. He plans to get MAX for his daughter, who lives an hour away, so that she can also keep track of his medications and activities.

MAX is personalized, requires little or no typing and is simpler to use than other calendar products on the market, says project lead Dr. Jeff Jutai, an AGE-WELL researcher and professor of health sciences at University of Ottawa. For example, its medication reminders include photo-realistic images of actual pills, showing their shapes and colours, to ensure people are alerted to take the right medication in the correct dose at the right time.

The technology also helps alleviate the stresses of people caring for older adults living with cognition and memory issues, he says, by providing timely information about how their loved one is doing, and involving them in scheduling and monitoring activities directly through the app.

Paul Lea loves the app, especially its pop-up reminders of the seven medications he needs to take daily.

Dr. Jutai says the project began six years ago as a way for people who “want independence and quality of life as they age, but face challenges with their memory, dexterity, mobility and eyesight” to safely manage medications and keep track of appointments such as doctor’s appointments and meetings.

Funded through AGE-WELL’s Strategic Investment Program, Dr. Jutai says the project also represents “an especially strong and productive collaboration” with industry partner JLG Health Solutions of Ottawa.

The company’s CEO Dinis Cabral calls MAX “a gamechanger.” He points out that with the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults “are more isolated and require more support, but restrictions make providing that support harder and we need this technology to help us.” Post pandemic, the app will continue to support older people to age in place, he says, while easing pressures on caregivers, including those who live far from their loved one.

Dr. Jutai says having people like Lea involved “at every step of the process” has been critical to ensure future commercial success for MAX. The feedback has made the app more user-friendly, for example with larger icons and a more intuitive way of inputting information, adds Cabral.

MAXminder™ will be available in a few months’ time at a monthly or yearly cost through app stores. The app is provided through a secure cloud-hosted system, so information is not sitting on an actual device. It’s on both Apple and android platforms, and works on smartphones and tablets.

The app currently works in English and French, and an older adult and a caregiver can even use versions with different languages at the same time. Other languages should be easily added going forward, and there are plans to release the product in other countries.