According to Age UK, the likelihood of being disabled and/or experiencing multiple chronic and complex health conditions increases with age (ONS,2018k), so anything we can do to alleviate the isolation felt by those living alone in older age, in lockdown, and also to alleviate the worry of those who live at distance from their loved-ones is paramount at the moment.
A real-time family newsfeed and communication service called FamilyNewsNow, developed by a Surrey man worried about the isolation of his loved ones, is to launch nationally this week.
Helping to support loved ones who are isolated either by illness or distance from their families, FamilyNewsNow acts as a real-time monitor that’s ‘always-on’ providing messages and images from the wider family and friends, together with reminders for the day ahead.
FamilyNewsNow (FNN) was initially developed as a service by Mike Shorthose (58) when his mother-in-law needed extra help. “My mother-in-law was experiencing certain challenges and became confused about when we’d call or visit and anxious if she was expecting us. We wanted to provide reassurance that even when we weren’t present she would know what was going on within the family, and we could help to remind her what was happening for her on certain days.
“As everyone faced with this troubling situation knows, it’s very difficult to leave your loved one knowing they’re feeling desperately isolated or confused.”
Nearly 4 million people over the aged of 65 live alone in the UK. Older adults who live alone are more likely to have mental health conditions and 1 in 6 people over 80 suffer dementia, so the solution for staving off isolation and keeping in touch needs to be simple.
Mike who, with two colleagues, developed his own aviation consultancy Helios, (which they sold in 2013), has brought everything he’s learned over the past 30+ years in business to solving the problem. He says: “The challenge of sharing information got me thinking about what I could do, it seemed that there should be a simple way to provide reassurance for our loved-one that provided all the information she needed for the day or moment in hand, as well as providing an opportunity to see and interact with what was happening in the wider family.”
Mike developed FamilyNewsNow initially as a feed that could be used on any device with photographs from loved ones alternating with reminders and messages such as “Good morning Mum, your carer is coming at 11am.”
Friends and work colleagues became intrigued by the service and Mike began sharing it with others. He says: “we had a number of old iPads we could use to set things up and this worked initially but then the logical next step seemed to me to develop a product that came ready-loaded with apps and that could be left on at all times. From this idea we developed our own tablet with the newsfeed already loaded along along with other apps chosen by the purchaser that were appropriate to the user. This normally includes a video communication app, such as Skype, made easy to use by our simple interface”
Mike’s mother Eunice Shorthose (91) was first to start using the new standalone pre-loaded tablet, developed by her son, from her bungalow in Warwick where she lived at the time, supported by a carer.
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Mike says: “Mum is now in a care home but she still uses FamilyNewsNow and it’s proved to be beneficial in ways we couldn’t have foreseen, for example, the rolling news feed provided by her children and grandchildren, give lots of talking points for the carers and for us when we call in the evening.
“Mum loves seeing photographs from the past too so I have looked through our old slides, transferred them to jpegs and put these up on the feed at regular intervals. This has really helped Mum to chat about things other than difficult topics. She can talk to her carers about her wider family or, as her carer noted the other day “ah, I see your grandson Matthew is in Australia!”
The FamilyNewsNow service provides an easy way of sending music to loved ones and using Skype for video calls. Mike’s Mum is a little hard of hearing and the conversation with her by Skype is made much easier by using subtitles. Mike also exchanges video messages with his mum using the tablet. The care home staff help his Mum send video messages including a recent one of her enjoying some music he had loaded onto the tablet.
Critically, the service is easy to set up and use and at present on an existing device, or can be bought ready-loaded on a tablet. Family News Now (FNN) is offered as a stand alone news feed at £15 a month that can be used on an existing device, it also comes ready-loaded in two tablet sizes: LARGE TABLET sized at 10.1” £199 or COMPACT TABLET 8” : £125.
All new users can have an in depth consultation to work out how best to tailor the device to the user’s requirements and tech ability. FamilyNewsNow also offers an operator service which monitors whether the tablet has problems, is charged etc.
Mike says: “the world can be a confusing place for the users of our service, with so many different ways to communicate, but sometimes it’s best to look at a simple option that provides a structure where you can communicate as a family over a closed network, support each other and provide reassurance. The full launch of this service is an exciting opportunity to use my own family’s experience to help the wider community, and we can’t wait to see what the future will bring.”
The service has enjoyed success with its small band of users who have been able to communicate with their loved-ones through lockdown.