Friday, November 10, 2017

Technical Solutions for Caregivers - innovation through interdisciplinary work

Last weekend with fellow students at George Mason University (GMU), I participated in the well-organized 2017 Caregiving for the Caregiver Hack-a-Thon sponsored by the Lindsay Institute, The event provided a good opportunity for student technology developers to work across disciplines on a shared goal. We also had the opportunity to speak directly with the technology users, the caregiver, and get input from experts in technology and business.

Although many of these hacked solutions will never get off the ground, some may eventually be developed and released for use by caregivers. The GMU team developed a mobile application, reashore, designed to address the informational and emotional needs of caregivers struggling with the practical daily needs of those with rarer forms of dementia. The work provides an example of how a good, interdisciplinary team can apply current technology and develop innovative solutions to modern problems.

Our team was privileged to work directly throughout the Hack-a-Thon with a caregiver whose husband suffered from dementia. In our discussions we identified a numerous problems that she struggled with while caring for her husband and reduced these to three needs:

1) A big problem is that, although there are many resources for people dealing with Alzheimers, there were few resources for people dealing with the other lesser known varieties of  dementia. Ultimately, she wanted one space online to which she could find solutions for the practical problems of getting the care recipient to eat or get dressed.
2) The best place to get answers and support was a caregiver support group, and she wanted the solution to include a means for caregivers with similar perspectives to be able to find and support each other.
3) The goals of the caregiver hack were also to develop a technology tool to help caregivers stay healthy, so we added the need for a place for the caregiver to find the means for relaxation.

To solve these three problems we created a prototype web application, reashore, that could be used on Android and iOS mobile platforms. The application has three main functions that correspond to the three identified needs:

1) A crowd-sourced search capacity that allows caregivers to find, suggest and rate solutions to their daily caregiving problems. As a recommender system, it integrates some of the functionality of well-known tools like Google search and StackOverflow.

Splash Screen

Solutions Search
Virtual Space to Find and Create Groups

2) A virtual meeting place for groups and individuals to find each other and set up meetings, similar to Meetup. This capability has a SOS feature that allows a caregiver to quickly find a fellow caregiver to chat with, when it gets really tough.

Virtual SOS to for Caregiver Chat

Breathing Room

Find Services
3) A virtual breathing room in which the caregiver can find resources to relax including recommended music, videos, and games and links to resources for meditation, yoga and other relaxation services.

Lastly, a recommender services search was added as a means to enable caregivers to find good services like elder care or nursing homes and to generate ad revenue for the application's maintenance.

A lot of work is needed to make this application truly usable (improve readability, add functionality, etc.), but it demonstrates the power of interdisciplinary work to create innovative solutions in very short timeframes. 

You can see our prototype and business plan presentation for more information: reashore

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