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Inspiration

Already under normal circumstances, many elderly people suffer from loneliness and lack of social contact. The current Corona crisis exacerbates the problem, as elderly people and risk patients are asked to stay at home and limit their contact to other people. This affects 1.6 Mio people older than 65 years in Switzerland (18% of the population). Many activities and occupations which usually fill the day of elderly people and enable social interactions are currently limited or canceled. Days in isolation become similar, many moments of happiness and highlights of the day are missing.

Due to the required isolation, people are also missing the «social background noise», e.g the possibility to just be in the presence of other people and listen to real human interactions.Elderly people living alone and following BAG recommendations (staying home) are locked alone at home. Many elderly have self-limited their social life to only interactions with care service workers (e.g spitex), grocery delivery people and distance-communication with friends and family. Many elderly people do not feel comfortable frequently calling their families, not wanting to take too much time.

People in care homes spend a lot of time passively consuming TV. Due to the cancellation of activation group activities, this trend increases. Media attention focuses currently on the Corona crisis, exacerbating anxiety and fear, as people do not have conversation partners to reflect and discuss the situation.

Especially people affected by dementia or other limitations are dependent on frequent interactions and stimulation to maintain their remaining level of abilities. Social interactions that are missed now cannot be compensated later. Depression is with 6.9 mia CHF annual direct health cost one of the top 3 health issues affecting the economy. The total economic cost of dementia (including indirect cost) amounts to 11.8 Mia, with cost, progressively increasing for more severe cases. Isolation and lack of interactions exacerbate both.

What it does

Telephone Bridge ("Telefonbrücke", "Pont Telephonique" respectively "Ponte Telefonico") runs a program of dial-in phone conference meetings and talk rounds. E.g Sunday: 09:30 Sunday church service, 12:00 joint lunch, 13:30 coffee talk, Monday: 10:00 discussion of last night’s «Tatort», 14:30 joint knitting session. The programme is organized in collaboration with care institutions (taking up their usual scheduled activities) and/or communities. The meetings take place in dial-In teleconference rooms with fixed numbers – easy dial-in also with most basic phones for non-tech-savvy users (mobile or land line). Calls are led and moderated by volunteers. Participants can choose to actively engage or simply follow the discussion. No sign-up or registration is required.

Participation

This solution takes into consideration that a solution for this target audience needs to be close to their existing routine and skills. It is based on a technology that also people with progressed dementia are still able to use (phone/landline - dial-in based only on numbers). It also takes away pressure from careworkers and allows for certain now-canceled activities to re-open again.

How we built it

Telephone Bridge is on purpose focusing on using a low-tech approach, possible to use even with most basic mobile phones for the elderly. The project is based on existing teleconferencing solutions with fixed phone numbers for conference rooms (different solutions and providers evaluated by the team). Otherwise the project consists of a webpage for presentation and marketing of the solution and printed flyers and guidelines to instruct participants and volunteers.

We built the project by first exploring the challenge in depth and mapping out all aspects of the problem of social isolation during the Corona crisis, identifying the personas of different stakeholders and potential users, different possible innovative uses of teleconferencing systems, existing solutions to overcome the problem of isolation and characteristics of teleconferencing systems and providers. Then we limited the preliminary scope of our solution to elderly people, especially living alone or in care homes, as they are impacted the most by the Corona crisis. Poviding a viable solution for them in the first place would provide the most immediate benefit, with further extension possibilities for user user groups. We continued to refine the idea and concept by also doing market research with elderly people, searching sparring partners and experts to challenge and review our idea and check the technical feasibility. Based on this, we are developing preliminary versions of materials.

Challenges we ran into

While many digital channels and conferencing systems exist (which also include video), many elderly people do not have the required devices or are not tech-savvy enough to use them without assistance, limiting the potential for innovative tech-led approaches. Therefore although being able to see the conversation partners would add additional benefits, we decided after considering the trade-offs to focus on a more basic solution, which would allow also people without the technical skills to participate.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Proposing a solution which combines existing solutions and approaches in novel ways to solve problems which already existed before, but are exacerbated now during the Corona virus crisis - finding an innovative solution which can be trial-run fast, adapted rapidly and carries low initial investment or risk, but could deliver tangible benefits to the affected people in short time.

What we learned

We gained considerable insight and understanding of the impact of the Corona virus situation of the elderly and how care homes try to relieve the effects of isolation and loneliness. We realized that sometimes a simple solution using basic means might be the most effective. Additionally, we experienced first-hand that it is possible to form a team, bond and collaborate effectively together by working only via digital channels, in a novel format of a Hackathon.

What's next for Telephone Bridge - Together against the Isolation

We would like to onboard a technical partner for the teleconferencing systems (discussion started) and find a local partner for the implementation of a pilot project (care home or home for the elderly, local community). The plan is to launch a first pilot project within two week.

Are you working in or responsible for a care home or home for the elderly and interested in partnering with us? Please reach out to our team!

Built With

  • teleconferencing
  • telephone
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