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SeniorDomo, the telecare service that detects falls at home and outdoors

  Photo: Matthew Bennet / Unsplash

Photo: Matthew Bennet / Unsplash

Two UOC students have created a home telecare service for elderly people for detecting falls or asking for help, whether at home or outdoors. The system notifies relatives immediately through an alarm sent to their mobile phone. The service, which was launched two months ago in Barcelona and its metropolitan area, hopes to reach other parts of Catalonia and Spain from 2020 onwards.

Development of the initiative, called SeniorDomo, started three years ago, inspired by the personal experience of two of the three founders, brothers Pere and Angel Puertas, from Barcelona. Their father, who was ill with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), wanted to age at home and they looked for a way to make that possible.

According to data compiled by the "la Caixa" Social Observatory for the Spanish National Statistics Institute's Census of Population or Dwellings, which is carried out every ten years and was last performed in 2011, 96.4% of elderly people want to age at home. Only 3.6% of elderly people would prefer to live an old people's home.

A technology consultant for large corporations since 2004, Angel decided to leave his job and invest all his savings in this project. Three years later, the project has now seen the light of day, and the UOC recently bestowed it with two of its awards for innovative initiatives, namely, for best project with social impact and best presentation.

SeniorDomo is an advanced telecare service that protects users 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It needs four things to work properly: a watch, an intercom, a keyring and an app which family members must download onto their phone.

The watch, which has a battery that lasts two months, is waterproof and has an SOS button that the user can press to get help. It works both at home and outdoors and is equipped with a series of sensors, an altimeter, a gyroscope and an accelerometer. These detect falls that happen either as a result of an accident or loss of consciousness, for example, if the user faints. Thus, if it detects a sudden height change with impact and lack of mobility for 30 seconds, the watch triggers an alarm, a high-pitched whistle that is repeated every minute and which user's relatives receive on their mobile phone. This means, for example, that if the family member is in the shower and does not hear the alarm when it first goes off, they'll here it as soon as they are out.

This alarm is repeated until the machine is sure that the family member has heard it. In the meantime, the SeniorDomo team (whose members include telecare call centre staff, social workers or professionals qualified to care for people with functional limitations) contacts the user through a series of intercoms distributed around the user's dwelling, if he or she is at home; notifies the family members (the family will have notified beforehand which members have keys or what times they can be called); and activates the emergency protocol, in coordination with the 112 emergency service as registered partner.

The app that the family members download onto their mobile phone not only alerts them of falls or requests for help but also allows them to monitor the elderly person's daily activities. For example, it will show whether the elderly person has been out of the home for a long period of time, if the person has just left or entered the home, and his or her exact location or whether he or she has asked for help while outside the home. A social worker also sends family members monitoring reports on their phones. This person stays in contact the elderly person by telephone or in person, depending on the contracted service level.

The basic rate (from 17 euros/month) is the only one that does not include this 24h emergency care service, which is available with the advanced (28 euros/month) and premium (45 euros/month) rates.

Another highlight of the SeniorDomo application is the at-home sensor, about the size of a one-euro coin, which can be put on the house keys, cane, walker frame or handbag. The sensor even has a GPS option, so that the user's exact location can be known.

Angel Puertas explained that the SeniorDomo solution is "very useful at the beginning of the ageing process", although he admits that few use the service as a precaution. Most users are people who have already had a fall at home, who have recently undergone surgery or have become widowed. According to Puertas, each year, elderly people as a group suffer 300,000 falls in Spain; of these, 3,000 will eventually die as a result of the fall and others will suffer from psychological or physical after-effects.

Although SeniorDomo is a service that helps improve the user's quality of life, Puertas always advises the family to first talk with the user about why a device like this needs to be made part of their life. "After all, it is a new situation in which the user has to recognize that he or she needs help and, if this hasn't been talked about earlier, it may be rejected", he warned.

SeniorDomo currently has 12 employees, between functional limitation care staff and technology professionals. The company's founding team, brothers Angel and Pere Puertas and Jordi Merc, are computer engineers. Angel is currently studying for an Executive MBA in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the UOC and Pere is studying on the University's bachelor's degree programme in Multimedia.

The company, with headquarters in Barcelona, is in contact with several venture capital investors and companies to take the project beyond Barcelona and the metropolitan area, which is where it is currently focused. The plan is to expand to the rest of Catalonia from 2020 onwards and offer more services to help people age at home, as Angle Puertas put it, "with the greatest possible degree of independence and wellbeing".

Spain will be the country with the longest life expectancy in 2040

At present, there are 9 million people living in Spain who are aged 65 or older, which is 19.3% of the total population, according to the National Statistics Institute's Rolling Population Register, with data as at 1 January 2019. Spain is currently the country with the fourth longest life expectancy (83 years), behind Japan, Switzerland and Singapore. However, according to a study performed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, Spain could move up to first place in 2040, thanks to an increase in life expectancy by 2.8 years.