UPDATED JANUARY 10, 2017: Today, it is with sad hearts that we share that Lois Harnett, the inspiration for the HiLois app for seniors and families, passed away last night from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. We will continue her legacy with HiLois to help ensure that everyone with Alzheimer’s, dementia or social isolation are connected in a meaningful way. Our prayers are with Brett Harnett and his family. Here is the HiLois Story written earlier this month.
My road to creating the HiLois technology for seniors, started in the summer of 2011 when I received a call from my mom’s doctor’s office.
My mom, Lois was widowed and lived alone in her condominium in Tampa. The nurse informed me that my mom had made 31 calls to the office that day, for a repeated non-urgent issue. I called my brothers. “We have a problem,” I said.
In the weeks that followed, we made trips to Florida to have her clinically assessed. She had been exhibiting symptoms of dementia for the past couple years, but we wrote it off to normal aging and forgetfulness, ‘senior moments.”
When It’s More Than Forgetfulness
Following a couple visits with her doctor, neurologic testing and a brain scan, her situation had progressed to show significant neurodegenerative brain tissue.
My mom had Alzheimer’s.
We knew Mom was no longer safe in her home and we began the process of relocating her closer to one of us. My older brother Jeff lived in Connecticut. My younger brother Brian is in Tennessee. And I live in Ohio. Because Brian was a nurse, he took the lead to move her to a memory care facility in the Nashville area.
How Our HiLois Technology for Seniors Began
Because two of us lived hundreds of miles from Nashville, visiting is a planned and occasional weekend event. This rendered the phone the primary communications mode.
But phone calls were not enough. We had a big challenge keeping Mom engaged.
The phone calls were predictably repetitive with questions about the kids and how old they were. Initiating different conversations always circled back to the ages of her grandchildren. This was a question she knew how to ask. She was comfortable with it. She was also stuck on it. There had to be a better way.
We purchased a digital photo frame and sent photos to Brian. He loaded them on a USB stick and put the digital photo frame for seniors in her room. We don’t know what effect that had. It did nothing to stimulate our phone conversations. I had no idea what photo was on the frame when I called. Again, we need a better way.
HiLois Connected Technology for Seniors is Born
At that point I had an idea that if we could upgrade the photo frame to something more timely and network based, we could better engage Mom. Apple’s iPads had become mainstream.
The idea for HiLois was born.
I consulted with a friend David who is a software developer and shared my story. Six months later, we had an alpha version. We loaded it on an older iPad and mounted it in Mom’s kitchenette in her memory care facility.
I was able to send photos and short messages from my phone that popped up instantly on her iPad. And with this technology for seniors, I could also view the photo carousel sequence with her and remotely stop it on a particular photo.
It was breakthrough. This was remarkable for our connections and conversations.
For example, I was able to send a photo of our daughter playing soccer on a Saturday morning. I could also stop on that photo when I called Saturday afternoon.
It completely changed the dynamic of our conversations. No longer did she ask how old Grace was, she asked about the game.
Building this technology for seniors, is helping me to make the most of this precious time with my mom.
Helping Increase Connection with Technology
People with cognitive challenges and in particular, dementia and Alzheimer’s, desperately need better ways to connect with the family. They need ways to feel stimulated. Families, like me, need better ways to share their moments with seniors like my mom.
Most of all, technology needs to be simple. It needs to easily integrate into our life and help relieve the burdens.
Now we are sharing the HiLois technology for seniors with others. We are currently in beta testing. We welcome others to join us in our journey right now.
Help Us Make a Difference with HiLois
Have a family member who is lonely or disconnected and looking for a creative way to stay in touch? All early reviewers who download in March of 2018 will have free lifetime usage. Download the HiLois app for seniors and social isolation today. (Offer ends: March 30, 2018)
iloisapp/”>HiLois Facebook page.
Brett Harnett is the founder of HiLois. He joined the faculty at the University of Cincinnati in 2004 and serves as the Director for the UC Center for Health Informatics. His academic appointment is in Biomedical Informatics. He is a member of the UC Institutional Review Board focused on use of technology protecting research subjects. Prior to joining UC, Brett was the Director of Experimental Information Technology for a NASA-sponsored research program in Virginia and a Systems Analyst at Yale University in Connecticut. He covers clinical informatics, healthy aging, technology, research and all things data for the HiLois blog.