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Video calling device simplifies connecting aged care residents to families

13 February 2023
By Helen Carter
CareWindow provides easy two-way communication. Image courtesy CareWindow.

Inspired by their late father, a South Australian brother and sister have helped develop an iPad-sized video calling device to help people in aged care communicate easily with relatives.

Several prototypes of the CareWindow passive video device, which enables two-way visual and audio communication, have been developed and are being trialled in an aged care facility in Adelaide.

Managing director of software developers James Anthony Consulting Zachary Bailey said his team designed the device to help older people avoid the difficulties of connecting and using digital technology such as mobile phones, laptops or iPads, especially those with eyesight problems, sequencing or mobility difficulties and dementia.

The device, which aims to improve social isolation and mental health and well-being of aged care recipients, can also assist aged care staff who have limited time to facilitate telecommunication.

Mr Bailey and his sister Fiona Symons, who works for the software company and is also a nurse who spent more than four years working in aged care, were inspired to create the innovation by practical difficulties they faced before their father Martin Bailey died in aged care in October 2021.

“He was an IT specialist before he got too sick to work, and he helped me develop a passion for software and supported me in my business journey,” Mr Bailey told Pulse+IT.

“We were visiting him daily but he suffered from cognitive impairments which meant he couldn’t operate his phone or even his TV remote so we had a hard time being able to speak with him as the nursing home was in lockdown at various times or my sister couldn’t go because of child duties.

“We tried setting up a wireless hotspot in his room but keeping it connected to his devices wasn’t reliable enough (bluetooth issues etc) and we realised we needed to come up with something simpler, easier and better.”

Mr Bailey said staff in aged care facilities were hard workers who cared a lot but they had limited time to help people place calls.

The aim is to help those in aged care feel like they are a part of their families’ household, and to help those at home feel connected to their relatives.

Zero touch requirements as family operates

“It’s essentially a “passive video presence” concept. It’s about video calling and feeling connected in an everyday, comfortable way,” he said.

The device has zero touch requirements for those in aged care, instead being remotely operated by the family. However, if the resident wants to initiate connection they can.

“It sits on their bedside table and either at specified times during the day, or when the family at home presses a “call” button, the CareWindow in the resident’s room says, ‘Your family is calling, connecting you in just a moment…’ and it connects.

“Both sides can then see and hear one another. We assume people will set it up to run just after dinner or during early afternoon.

“A time gate means it will automatically connect at certain times to link the homes together but won’t allow connection at other times, for example to prevent being activated at 2am.

“It’s easy to use, has a zero hassle setup as it works out of the box with no IT maintenance or set-up required, automatic answering with no need to touch it to use it, 5G connection, and privacy when desired via a snooze button.”

When not connected it displays the time and day in large lettering like a dementia clock, as well as the weather and photos of loved ones. The camera is only active during calls so it can’t be used for surveillance as all connections are two-way only.

Big demand and waiting list

Mr Bailey said staff say they love the idea as it connects more families to more residents.

“For those without family, it makes it easier for volunteer services to connect a few times a week and to more people as volunteers have limited time,” he said.

“Staff are happy as a snooze button and timer feature prevent the system being active during care moments to ensure patients aren’t on camera while undergoing care.

“Residents and their families also love it. We have a long waitlist and a lot of demand. I’m chomping at the bit to mass manufacture and we’re fundraising for that.

“Whenever I describe the idea to someone, I have virtually even-odds that they’ll tell me about their relative in aged care and ask where and when they can buy one. When those who understand the problem it solves, from personal experience, hear about it, they want one straight away.”

CareWindow is being trialled at Anglicare Trott Park where Martin Bailey resided, with Aged Care Research & Industry Innovation Australia (ARIAA) providing some funding for the trial. Other facilities have also provided input into the design.

“We’ve performed trial co-design and there has been some informal testing of early units,” Mr Bailey said. “We have four prototypes and we’re working on another 40 to support the trial. I expect we’ll be on the market in limited scale by midyear or a larger scale if we raise mass manufacturing funds sooner.”

The Department for Trade and Investment in SA provided advice and helped structure export plans while Flinders University researchers helped validate the design.

“Everyone who works in the care space is very open and supportive,” Mr Bailey said.

Before the ARIAA funding, the project was self-funded but the business is now seeking $500,000 to $3.5 million, the latter of which would hasten international market entry with the US and Germany as initial export destinations.

“We built four manufactured prototypes ourselves which are used for demonstrations and small-scale trials. Building these ensured we could understand the hardware solution deeply and get the software working.

“For mass scale we’re looking at several off-the-shelf OEM/generic units from other manufacturers which we can lock down the software on and customise the chassis, and balance that against local manufacturing options. We’re currently in talks with two manufacturers.

“For the trial units for Anglicare we expect to use OEM/generic hardware and intend to make the units purchasable by families after the trial.”

To keep costs down the unit has no battery but plugs in, keeping electrical compliance simple and maximising lifespan of the unit, which is estimated to cost about $650.

Mr Bailey said CareWindow’s advantages over hardware and SaaS alternatives included his company would never sell data to advertisers, there are no privacy issues, it is user friendly enough for those with mild cognitive impairment, suitable for the aged care environment and maintenance is not a challenge.

5 comments on “Video calling device simplifies connecting aged care residents to families”

  1. It’s great to see another Australian video calling solution emerging. The Angela tablet, the Konnekt Videophone and Captioning Videophone (developed right here in Australia), and the U.S. GrandPad help enormously for people with dementia, severe hearing loss, poor dexterity and/or low vision.

    • Name - John
  2. This is an amazing concept, my daughter works as an AIN in across many Aged Care Facilities and she often sees patients have missed calls on their phone… sometimes up to 18 and they don’t have the cognitive ability to remember how to answer the calls.. well done on providing a solution and enriching the lives of our elderly living in care.

    • Name - Janine Cox
  3. There is also Frameo which we have and can send photos and short videos and this has been good if you are in a different Timezone and time isn’t compatible to call sometime. It’s more or less automatic and has numerous languages. You can only reply with a choice of emoji on a panel and the photos can keep flowing or stop on a particular one. It is very easy to use.

    • Grandpad has changed. Now need a google account to set up and requires much more cognitive savvy then previous version. More apps on the front page. Tried with my mom and returned it the same day. May be fine for tech savvy older adults but not cognitively impaired.

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