It’s that time creeping up. Once Halloween is over, we will be entering that long and wearing period known as ‘the Holidays’ – in which everyone who lives anywhere remembers that they don’t live somewhere where the relatives are. For some, that means crowding into cars, roadways, and airports. It may be another one of those mind-boggling flights filled with the frail, like the 22-wheelchair Jet Blue flight I took once from – where else – Florida to Boston, frail people struggling to board early onto planes so they can join their families for the annual hoo-ha. And if they don’t or they can’t, they are sad, as much from the media hype as anything else. So their assisted living and nursing home aides hustle and bustle, or their home care worker and anyone who helps them locally tries to do something a bit festive.
So let’s be more specific – make an app for the home bound elderly. Let’s make this holiday a friendlier season for those that just can’t make it onto the plane. How about an app that is built on existing technology and just needs willpower and some assembly. It could be very useful and enjoyable – it could even be used outside of the holiday season! Starting with assisted living communities, let’s imagine a ‘real’ virtual reality video room. The aide has used a calendar to accept an invite, scanned an integrated chat list and confirmed that Mrs. Jones’ son is online at the appointed time. So a frail Mrs. Jones is wheeled into this room, along with a cup of tea. Together she and her aide press a button, and a large monitor lights up, enabling Mrs. Jones to touch a screen of family images and select her son if he is online now (for example, the app scans the calendar and online Google chat users -- she touches the image again). Suddenly Mrs. Jones and her son are face-to-face in large screen, high definition focus – her grandchildren soon join the picture, and the family’s dog is held up for viewing. Everyone chats for a while. Perhaps Mrs. Jones’ best friend from the community joins the session for an introduction, or perhaps a grandchild plays the piano for a bit after the family scans the room with their local camera.
But this is more about willpower than tech. The tech side of this is relatively simple – an all-in-one computer on a cart, or a tablet connected to a monitor, or maybe hooking a Netbook with a cable to Mrs. Jones’ TV and turning on a portable camera with a microphone. True, this has a number of piece parts (calendar, online status, on screen photos, touch screen integration, large monitor/TV, etc.) But now we get to the hard part – who will set up and test the whole shebang at Mrs. Jones’ end? What if Mrs. Jones lives in an apartment -- can her family contact the local Geek Squad to stop by? Does Mrs. Jones have a high enough speed Internet connection that is affordable? Can the local senior center offer and dispatch a staffer or volunteer? Can this really be a ‘Tech on Wheels’ variant of Meals on Wheels? Can SeniorNet volunteers be certified and trained to do this? Is this a project for the AARP Foundation work to prevent social isolation? And finally, if the Virtual Senior Center enables home bound seniors in New York City to participate in senior center activities, then how about the one-button ‘Virtual Dining Room’ app? Okay vendors, go forth and make it so.