The need to have social interactions and quality interpersonal relationships, and to build large social networks is embedded into our genes and is critical to our psychological and physical well-being. The absence of social contact, or the perceived lack of intimate social contact, can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. These states have been linked to increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimers disease, insomnia, poor life satisfaction, depression, low self-esteem, and impaired function of daily activities. Loneliness is a common problem in individuals over the age of 60 due to experiences linked with aging, such as loss of family and friends, declining health and income, socio-demographic trends, living alone for longer, breakdown of relationships, and changes in families and communities.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the elderly have been hardest hit especially when it comes to staying connected. Having been forced to remain isolated for their own safety, many elderly people have had a difficult time dealing with loneliness as they have no longer been able to see their friends and family. It is important to explore options for alleviating loneliness in elderly individuals over 60 because they are most at risk for loneliness, but are the least likely to seek help for it. Social relationships can moderate adverse health effects of stress and loneliness by enhancing emotional support, intimacy, attachment, and feelings of self-worth, self-competence, and emotional well-being, and providing comfort in times of need. We created Linkage as a way for the elderly to easily talk to volunteers of all ages either through our simple UI video interface or through our real-time chat option to provide them with human interaction whenever they need it.

What it does

Our idea is a chat web app that is easy for elderly people to participate in: they simply select their preferred method of chatting with no requirement of logging in or struggling with a complicated interface. They will be matched with a volunteer with whom they have chatted with previously and had good experiences with, or with a random volunteer. All volunteers will be required to be vetted by organizations in order to participate to minimize potential senior abuse.

How we built it

Utilizing Firebase and Twilio, we have set up features including text-based and video chats which will allow an elderly person to enter into a chat with a volunteer -- either one they have confirmed to have had a good experience with or one at random. The elderly person will be able to leave the chat at any time and will be redirected back to the chat screen if they press the leave button unintentionally.

Each volunteer will be required to fill in a screening survey (and be vetted by an organization) in order to be added to our database as an authenticated volunteer. The volunteer's information will be stored, whereas the elderly person will be linked to a user id via cookies. This way the elder will not have to navigate complicated login pages and their volunteer preferences can still be saved.

Challenges we ran into

This project required the use of technologies that we had not experienced previously -- namely the basis of our app: video and text-based chat features. This required us to find resources in order to implement these in addition to finding ways of integrating them into our web app. The short timeline of this hackathon forces our team to prioritize the core features we would like to implement. It was difficult to set dedicated time for everyone on the team to implement features together since we all had a varying schedule.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Being able to complete the functionality of our project. Having had to learn new technologies and utilize a very fast-paced agile method as we went, we were able to create the functionality that we set out to include for our web app just as we had planned for it with our Figma prototype.

What we learned

Flexibility and fast-paced planning. This project required us to Google resources and learn new technologies very rapidly and as certain methods became improbable to be completed in our short time frame, we needed to be able to pivot and plan another method of attack.

What's next for Senior Connect

Refining our UI and UX and further developing our idea to ensure smooth usage, as well as looking into potential for other features which we feel would help elderly in difficult times, such as grocery delivery.

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