Prior to the Health 2.0 Europe Conference there was a deep-dive 3 hour session called “Tools for the Elderly.” I was particularly interested in this session for two reasons, first we are doing some work with Boston University on a study using Wellpepper to manage the health of Parkinson’s patients the eldest of whom is 75 and second, a common criticism we hear from healthcare providers and investors is “old people can’t use technology.” We disagree wholeheartedly, but acknowledge that those who may have less than 20/20 vision or arthritic hands may require different types of interfaces and engagement than the stereotypical 20 year old developer is building for. Based on this, I was very interested to see what types of innovations and challenges this session presented.
Two of the most interesting were Many Happy Returns and Intelesant. Many Happy Returns is a memory, engagement, and conversation aid for people with dementia. It was developed originally as a not-for-profit by Sarah Reed who was introduced to the world of dementia when her mother was diagnosed over 10 years ago. Originally a card game, and now being developed into a mobile application, Many Happy Returns presents pictures from different decades to jog the memory of dementia sufferers and encourage inter-generational communication. People who have dementia have increasingly clear long-term memory with deteriorating short term memory and the cards provide the ability to have meaningful conversations with those with dementia and also learn family stories before they are lost. The app interface was simple and highly usable, and the benefit of using an iPad app over printed cards is huge: sound can be added, and sounds have proven to be very evocative for memory jogging, new card sets can be created by scanning and adding the person’s own photos, and finally, tracking can be done related to which photos, or sounds are most interesting to people.
Intelesant could have also been in the “unmentionables” session in the full conference. They provided an advance “end-of-life” care plan that was accessible by patients, their care givers, and could be shared with healthcare providers, especially in a care home setting. Too often this information is lost or not communicated clearly until it’s too late, and Intellesant aims to change this. What was compelling about the Intellesant presentation is that the interface, while capable of reporting clinical results, was designed for the patient and the caregiver who are really the most important constituents in this scenario.
There were also three startups that were focusing on building interfaces for the elderly, one to make it extremely simple to use a phone, one to make it extremely simple to use a tablet, and one to make it extremely simple to have a conference call or telehealth chat through your TV. The first two were solving the problem that Android interfaces are generally a lot less usable than other interfaces, which really seems like 1. A short term problem and 2 something that should be addressed by Android OS developers. (Are you listening Samsung?). The third, SpeakSet was solving a problem that of course affects the elderly, but also everyone else. According to some former colleagues of mine at Microsoft (Skype), it takes 10 minutes on average for any conference call to get started. While there are definitely tools that can help the elderly manage their health and wellbeing, good usable design should be available to everyone. I’d love to use a big button that says “start conference call” and have it work immediately.
The AARP has gone on record asking Silicon Valley to start building tools for the aging population. Based on this session at Health 2.0 Europe, they may want to look further afield.