Friday, 21 March 2014

'App' Pilot Proves Successful In Connecting Generations

A pilot scheme run across Cambridgeshire and Central Bedfordshire by the East of England Local Government Association, which tested the use of digital technology in improving the quality of life of older people, has proved a success with its testers.

Initial indications suggest the technological solution could help users stay in regular contact with their families, increase confidence and reduce feelings of loneliness – at a time when national surveys say the older generation are feeling more isolated than ever.

The ‘Mindings’ App, created by entrepreneur Stuart Arnott, gives users a way to communicate with friends and relatives anywhere across the globe through a ‘simplified Facebook-style’ approach. It gives relatives the opportunity to send photos, reminders and messages to their loved ones, and to receive confirmation that their content has been received. The user doesn’t need any experience with IT at all.

The app aims to enrich relationships, allowing those using it to connect and interact with friends old and new and helps the technology shy to stay in regular contact with their family receiving content from a mobile phone, Facebook or email.

The pilot scheme, funded by NHS Midlands and East, involved giving the app to 30 local residents who are over 70 years old and who are not confident with using IT. It aimed to see whether the ability to stay in touch with family and friends through social media and digital technology worked in increasing confidence and quality of life.

Initial findings from the pilot scheme show that 38% of users reported an increase in quality of life during the trial, with 43% saying it had an impact on their happiness. On the whole users said they felt more ‘in the loop’ with family news thanks to the app.

Stuart Arnott, creator of Mindings added: “In the UK there are 10 million people over the age of 65 and 2 million of those people have less than weekly contact with a friend or family member. Even worse, 1 million would describe themselves as ‘chronically lonely’. One man who took part in the trial told me he had regular contact with his family.  ‘Regular’ turned out to be once every three weeks.

“Mindings was borne out of this problem. Grandchildren seeing their grandparents regularly is much less common nowadays, and although as a generation we're all ‘connected’ through social media, this often doesn’t stretch to our older family members who don’t always use digital technology. If the family member lives alone or is in poor health, then lack of regular family contact can make them feel lonely, vulnerable, or even ignored.

 “I didn’t set out to create a solution to this problem, Mindings started out as a personal project, but through the work I’ve undertaken and the trials and tests carried out we can see a real difference in quality of life and happiness of those people, and it’s all down to simple communication.

”And, on my journey it had become clear that my situation wasn’t unique – everyone has friends or family they’d like to be better connected to.”

Reg Bartlett, 68 from Huntingdon agreed to join a handful of residents at his Cambridgeshire home in signing up for the trial, and now says he won’t ever go back to a life without some degree of electronic communication.

“I think it’s brilliant. I receive photographs from my family pretty much every day, and I leave those pictures on the screen so that they scroll through and remind me of the loved ones I have in my life – even when they haven’t been able to visit for a few days.

“In a way, it acts as a comforting form of companionship. As you get older you could end up feeling isolated, so this is a great way of reminding you of your family and keeping you in touch.”

For Jenny Taylor, who is 73 and from Dunstable, keeping in touch with family members and friends has become increasingly tough.

Jenny lives with and cares for her husband Les, who has dementia and unfortunately, she doesn’t have the support of her family, all of whom live hundreds of miles away.

“My grandchildren are all growing up so quickly so getting regular photos of them is lovely, and it means my husband can also look at them, even if sometimes he doesn’t really understand.”

Cecilia Tredget from the East of England Local Government Association added:  “What is particularly interesting to us is that 81%, of participants reported a very positive reaction to having technology, such as an iPad, made available to them – beyond the Mindings product itself – and several participants have requested the iPad be unlocked, enabling them to use it for other applications.

“There is evidence that participating in the trial has ‘demystified’ technology, by introducing it in a ‘gentle’ way and helped people to recognise the potential that learning to use technology has for their lives.”

‘Mindings’ won a Dragon’s Den style competition run by the East of England Local Government Association, which aimed to find and award funding to a product or service which would tackle social isolation, improve wellbeing and so keeping people in their own homes for longer.