Feature Story

Will this simple tech tool really delete loneliness

by Jason Deign

Person on Touch 10 device

Will this simple tech tool really delete loneliness?

Feeling lonely is a challenge at any point in life. But for the elderly it’s a big problem. The National Institute on Aging says about 28 percent of older adults in the U.S. live alone and they are at higher risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and a whole host of other health issues.

The elderly face this problem all over the world and dealing with it isn’t easy. Now a team in Spain is trying to see if tech tools can lend a hand.

The team includes experts from Cisco and Nae, a consulting firm. It is looking to launch a project called ‘Deleting Loneliness’ in Barcelona, Catalonia. In 2018, more than 90,000 people over the age of 65 were living alone in the city.

In 2019, 5G Barcelona, the Barcelona City Council, and Mobile World Capital Barcelona put out a call for tech projects to help these people. Two out of 53 ideas were chosen to go forward and Deleting Loneliness was one of those two.

The project has been given EUR€100,000 (USD$109,000) in funding. It aims to use Cisco WebEx Teams, DX80 displays, and Room Kits to help seniors with impaired mobility to connect with each other. WebEx Teams is being tweaked to allow this in a couple of ways.

See also: Tech helps Spain's students with remote learning 

One involves giving people access to others who share a given passion: sport, for instance, or knitting. Users involved in the pilot scheme will be asked to list their interests.

If someone wants to talk about a given topic, they can select in on the DX80 screen and the device sends an alert to all the other people who share an interest in the subject.

Anyone who responds to the alert will initiate a WebEx Teams videoconference call through the DX80, making it easy for users to start conversations.

Another feature, created for those in peoples’ homes, allows staff to share video streams at the press of an icon on the Room Kit’s Cisco Touch 10 control unit. This lets residents enjoy group events such as visits or birthdays without having to leave their rooms.

The feature can also be used to link to someone wearing a RealWear video headset, so residents can become virtual guests on outings and trips. Both features can be accessed via a simple user interface, to get around the fact that many older people can find it hard to deal with high-tech gadgets.

See also: Leaders share the top things you should know about working from home 

“We are convinced this will reduce levels of loneliness among these people,” says Jose Lecea Alayo, innovation program manager at Cisco.

The first DX80 screens have been delivered for the project and the remaining units are ready for rollout as soon as Spain comes out of its current COVID-19 lockdown. The pilot is due to last between seven and nine months, with results slated for release at MWC Barcelona 2021.

“By December, we will be able to tell if we have improved people’s lives,” says Xavier Azemar, the head of the Barcelona Co-Innovation Center.

If the pilot is deemed a success, the search will be on for partners that can take it to market. It seems like an idea that could have a big impact on society: 175,000 people suffer from loneliness in Catalonia alone, and the number is growing.

If you were one of them, wouldn’t you want to delete loneliness at the press of a button?

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