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A student has invented a new smartwatch app that assists veterans affected by PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
Tyler Skluzacek, a senior at Macalester College in Saint Paul Minnesota, created the program inspired by his dad, Sargeant First Class Patrick Skluzacek. After fighting for a year in Iraq, the man was left profoundly shaken, and these effects were immediately obvious to his family.
“Your dad just disappearing for a year and coming back a little bit different and seeing his army buddies and them coming back a little bit different too…I have a real personal connection to the PTSD problem”, explained Tyler.
In order to help his father cope with his constant night terrors, the boy entered a computer programming competition called HackDC. The aim was to design a program that would allow Patrick Skluzacek to sleep peacefully, without being persistently awaken by episodes of intense fear and inconsolable screaming.
In a matter of just 36 hours, Patrick’s team wrote the code for this software, and eventually incorporated it into an app named myBivy. The name was chosen because in military terminology bivouac refers to a semi-permanent, improvised camp where the army can lodge and rest.
The program can be used on a smartwatch and was initially tested on a Pebble Time, but it can also be included on smartphones. As the developers explained, the app works by closely monitoring heart rate and motions during the night, in order to predict panic attacks.
After tracking a veteran’s resting habits for a period of 2 weeks, the software can clearly identify normal patterns, as well as the initial modifications that occur during night terrors.
The app uses vibrations or sounds in order to alleviate these symptoms, by anticipating them or by taking patients out of deep sleep. As scientists explain, night terrors typically occur during this stage of nighttime rest, which is also known as delta sleep or slow-wave sleep.
Therefore, scheduled partial awakenings which allow individuals to leave this stage in non-rapid eye movement sleep are often effective in combating this type of panic attack. There is also a functionality that permits the app to create sleep reports, which can later be analyzed by physicians.
The app managed to convince the panel of judges, and Tyler and his team were awarded the top prize in the category Best PTSD Mobile App for Clinicians. They also received a $1,500 award, but now the ultimate goal is for the app to reach every veteran.
The young inventors have launched a Kickstarted campaign in order to raise money for their follow-up research, and so far they’ve raised more than $13,000. It appears that the initiative has the support of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and also of several sleep experts.
It is hoped that what started as a personal project will be expanded through clinical trials next spring, so that one day the app can be used nationwide. The team would like to make it widely available on Android, Pebble and Apple smartwatches, as well as on iPhones and Android phones.
Currently, around 8% of the American population suffers from PTSD, and this disorder is especially common among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, around 1 in 5 of them being affected by it.
The developers would like to use their app to put an end to this affliction, and also to help treat other sleep disorders such as sleepwalking or sleep-paralysis.
Image Source: Flickr