Connecting Elderly

Design Challenge

#2: How might we encourage our community to support one another and look out for those who are socially isolated?

Project Description

The elderly population (aged 70 and older) are the most vulnerable to COVID-19, however only a small fraction of elderly are connected online. With the ongoing social distancing measures, they are unable to meet others outside of their household.

This is a low-barrier solution to connecting elderly through tech – upgrading television sets with cameras, audio input devices and a basic communication system. The communication system will allow the user to start and receive video calls from the upgraded television. Elderly can continue using a familiar device to connect with loved ones online. The design of the communication system will be directed to elderly in its user interface, with only 1 function – video calling. This reduces cost, implementation time and system complexity.

Criteria #1: Value

Elderly do not know how to use smartphones and computers. Online websites and mobile apps are not designed for elderly (eg. require more aged user friendly interfaces) and there is insufficient training to support elderly to get connected.

Elderly are familiar with devices like the television and telephone.
In these times of isolation, technology is necessary to stay connected to others and ensure basic social needs are met. A technology solution designed specifically for the elderly is necessary to allow them to connect online and benefit from telecommunication.

Criteria #2: Inspiration

Inspired by Facebook’s Portal, the solution to connecting elderly should be straightforward and simple to use. Facebook’s portal has 1 main use: allow video calls. Facebook Portal simplifies the smartphone for elderly, ensuring they are not overwhelmed.

I suggest not providing a completely new device but rather upgrading an existing device in elderly’s homes – the television. Elderly can switch to a different mode to activate the video calling system. They can receive calls or make calls through their television. With just 1 function, it is easy to navigate and understand.

Criteria #3: Impact

This solution will have positive social impact on elderly, especially those who live alone. The heightened isolation measures is likely to increase loneliness and mundanity – all of which reportedly raises mortality with greater risk of heart disease, dementia, depression and anxiety. The elderly generation who are not connected online will feel the biggest social impact.
This solution will allow them to continue catching up with their family and friends, to see their loved ones online – rather than just on a call. They can continue watching their grandchildren – online now. Through telecommunication, they can continue supporting their families, giving them more hope in these times.

Criteria #4: Timeliness

The communication system needs to be built – the television will provide the video and audio output, an android device will act as the communication system, an audio input device ie. a mini mic, a desktop camera device to provide the video input.

For a MVP, this simple setup can be set up in each elderly household at a low cost (basic android device 100$ + mini mic (5$) + desktop camera (20$) +keyboard remote control (10$) = total cost of about 135$.
This can be easily launched within 2 months – depending on the procurement and testing of the system.

Criteria #5: Systems Thinking

This solution will enable more home visitations to be carried out by NGOs and healthcare teams during the COVID-19 period as they can move to online means.

Current efforts to provide elderly with entertainment during this period are also television-based (eg. the new video series done in collaboration between MCI, PA and SPH on