Seniors at Home: Unobtrusive Ambient Assisted Living

Tony Kehoe, a retiree in his mid-60’s, who had been volunteering with Age Action Ireland in Cork, set up a small group called Care and Repair who helped with small DIY jobs for people over 65. During his time on this project it became apparent to him that the main issue affecting these elderly people was living in isolation and not being in regular contact with their families or carers.

In response, he founded Seniors at Home three years ago. It is a company dedicated to assisting older people to live as independently as possible for as long as possible in their chosen environment while aiming to provide peace of mind to carers and family alike.

“Around the same time I had been playing around with sensors and while I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to see I wasn’t quite sure how to make it happen, that’s when I invited Dermot [Clancy] on board and with his technology background he added considerable weight to the project.”

Dermot says, “My background led naturally into what Tony was talking about and that’s when we started to feel we matched each others needs on the technology side.”

Tony had always harboured ideas of setting up his own company having worked for many years at senior levels in a number of large organisations; “This was a good fit as it was technology driven but for not for the sake of it, it had a social purpose.”

At this point in time Dermot and Tony recruited John Whelan who had a background in Marketing. After doing a couple of studies on the marketplace and attending a number of Ambient Assisted Living conferences in Europe, the three felt they had a clear view of what they wanted to happen next.

“We noted that the industry was pushing very hard on technology side,” says Tony, “But that it wasn’t very conscious of the actual needs of people and we hope to try to correct that with our product.”

Seniors at Homes, plan to introduce a range of assisted living products, the first being I’m at Home. The basis for this is a very simple concept that provides the complete technology in a box in the older persons home linked with a number of wireless sensors. Direct contact can then be had between the carers and the individual in the home without making the older person feel threatened by the presence of technology.

Seniors at Home is also the provider of the monitoring solution. I’m at Home will come with a basic computer, data logger and server in one single box so all there’ll be is a single unit and three sensors which will be placed in the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. All they need to do is plug in the box and they’re immediately operational.

“What we do is install in the system a number of default settings. For example, if the older person you’re in charge of doesn’t get out of bed by 1o’clock in the afternoon, if there’s limited activity during the day or no activity in kitchen it will send you an alert. The initial program is for a number of alerts but the true benefit is the individual can set the activity pattern to suit the person they are caring for and can start determining their own sets of alerts.”

This product will enhance the relationship between the carer and the older person as it will introduce a degree of sensitivity into the relationship. When the carer sees something happening which is outside the normal pattern they can call the older person and ask how everything is, are you sleeping okay, are you eating properly, rather than saying I can something on my screen.

For a product like this to survive it will need to have a heavy emphasis on the carers and family members. Tony says, “There is no question the need exists however there is marked reluctance on the part of older people to connect with technology or connect with anything that will put them in contact with a stranger.

“Our target market is going to be the younger person maybe 40 or 50 years old who perhaps feels guilty about not being able to stay in touch with their elderly relative as much as they would like to.”

This is not a product that will tether the carer in one place either. The desire of Tony and Dermot is for the carer to be able to check on the elderly relative as often as they feel they need to and from wherever they might be. It is designed to operate via laptop, texts through a mobile phone and they are working on being able to interrogate the history from a mobile phone also.

“The significant differentiation features from other devices is that because we’re not in the health provider market, our basic focus is on improving the communication process and by the fact we don’t have a monitoring service it enables our system to be borderless, it doesn’t matter what language the customer speaks.”

On a grander scale for Tony, Dermot and John, Enterprise Ireland has recently bought a share in the company making them a promising new start up.

Dermot says that the platform they’ve developed is somewhat overkill for what’s needed at the moment but they have a desire to future proof their product for further features that can be added in as they grow and learn what’s needed.

“We’ve looked at GPS devices that can connect with this so if the older person is at that stage where there is a risk of them leaving the house and wandering the GPS system would be able to monitor their movements.”

As far as the technology behind this goes, the IP is readily available and the company have been able to combine existing technology with what they believe the market to be in need of.

“There’s loads of IP out there but all struggling to find a marketing niche and we prefer to think because of our experience of working with older people and having older parents ourselves we’ve a better understanding of what the market really needs and being able to provide this in the lowest cost and most advantageous way.”

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