Guest article: How assistive tech can tackle loneliness and improve the quality of life for older people
With the coronavirus pandemic disrupting almost every part of our daily lives, socially distancing and reducing face-to-face contact with others has become the norm to reduce transmission of the virus. However, for elderly people, this can leave them feeling more isolated and vulnerable as they are at a higher risk of becoming ill if they catch the virus.
In this article, No Isolation’s UK Director Harriet Gridley discusses how assistive technology can help elderly people and people with dementia maintain crucial contact during this difficult time and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Loneliness doesn’t discriminate on age, gender or across borders – it can affect anyone at any time, as exemplified in the latest ONS survey of wellbeing and anxiety during coronavirus, which indicates that as many as 7.4 million people across the UK, from differing age groups and backgrounds, have experienced feelings of loneliness in the past month.
Communication and the feeling of belonging are absolutely vital for people of all ages to avoid feeling completely isolated. Keeping in regular contact with friends and family is one of the best ways to stave off feelings of loneliness, whether it is on the phone, sending a text or using video tools.
Technology can never replace human to human connection, but it can help us build and maintain those crucial relationships in times where meeting physically isn’t possible. This is especially important for the more vulnerable members of our society, as the elderly are a group that remain most at risk and thus must rely on virtual communication in place of physical meetings.
However, as many can attest, it’s not always easy to introduce newer forms of technology to the lives of older friends and family. Furthermore, as the Alzheimer’s Society reports, there are over currently 850,000 people in the UK aged over 65 who have dementia: typically struggling more than others to learn how to use new technology.
Modern communication devices and social media mean that younger generations are able to communicate instantly via instant messages, videos and voice notes; all exchanged within seconds, but elderly friends and relatives can often be left out of the fun.
No Isolation is a company founded with the aim of reducing loneliness and social isolation through the creation of warm technology. The company aims to take the most useful elements of social media and connected technology, then introduce them to the senior population in a product that is designed specifically for them and by them: the product was a joint development between seniors, families and designers.
When creating KOMP, modifying existing technology simply wasn’t an option. As such, the design allows users to passively receive messages, images and calls, meaning that there is no need for any kind of pre-existing digital skills.
By removing all usernames and passwords, KOMP is easy to grasp, giving users a sense of mastery over the technology straight away. Additionally, during the research stages, it was discovered that a lot of seniors experience leathery and dry fingertips when they grow older, due to decreased blood flow, making it difficult for them to use touchscreens. As such, one large, graspable button was added to ensure ease of use.
The screen is placed at the senior’s home; family and friends can then connect and share content via the app. When the KOMP is turned on, the user will receive the messages, video calls and pictures sent throughout the day.
In February this year, No Isolation also launched KOMP Pro for care providers, providing an alternate version of the KOMP Family software, which offers care homes additional functionality including reminders, a dementia-friendly calendar and clock. The additional functions allow care providers to send residents medication reminders, share daily schedules and keep in contact.
Families can also still use the KOMP Family software to send photos and messages to, and video call with, their relatives.
KOMP is easy to set up and relies on a WiFi connection in the home. Alternatively, a mobile broadband connection will also suffice.