Creating a tapestry to connect seniors to family

The makers of a social-networking app that can help reduce social isolation in older Australians will travel to Silicon Valley later this month thanks to a government grant to promote innovation.

Tapestry gives seniors a simple interface for browsing the web and sharing photos and messages with their families.

“Research has shown that even just a connection to the internet can reduce depression by 20 per cent, so we had an inkling that social media with a particular focus on seniors could have even greater results,” Tapestry CEO Andrew Dowling said. “We’re seeing that people from all over the place are searching us out and finding us.”

Some aged care residents who took part in the company's development trials were wary of using an app, so Tapestry started off small, recruiting 10 residents from Wesley Mission’s Alan Walker Village in Sydney.

However, it was so popular with the users that the company decided to launch it on the market earlier than planned.

Tapestry has been awarded a grant from Commercialisation Australia to build community care features into the app, and Mr Dowling said the company was canvassing the aged care industry to decide what residents’ greatest needs were.

A couple of ideas in development are intra-facility “noticeboards” that would allow residents to communicate with each other remotely, and links to community services.

Testing of the community care features is expected to take place in several facilities, each involving 40 to 50 users.

“One of the very interesting things to come out of the pilot was that a hundred per cent of the users in the trial said that [the availability of] Tapestry, combined with the internet, would influence their choice of retirement village,” Mr Dowling said. “That’s obviously a big thing in an industry looking to differentiate itself.”

One of the trial participants was 84-year-old retired stenographer Ruth Moore.

Mrs Moore’s family lives in Tasmania, and she only sees them twice a year. She said the impetus for her joining the trial was that geographical separation, in particular with her busy granddaughter, who has just graduated in medicine and is hard to contact.

“It has been very successful,” Mrs Moore said. “She now thinks I’m very up-to-date with technology.”

Mrs Moore and her granddaughter are both Dr Who fans and exchange emails after each episode.

Easy access to email has also allowed Mrs Moore to re-connect with her sister-in-law, whom she had not spoken to for a long time.

She browses the internet to research topics of interest to her, and is also a keen user of Tapestry’s weather and community functions.

Mrs Moore said the instant nature of the communication has made her happier and feel more settled about living far away from her family, as that distance from her family had previously given her a bit of worry.

Tapestry is looking at conducting more rigorous research into the positive health effects from using social media. The company hopes to explore collaborations with the University of Sydney’s School of Health Informatics and Statistics and the University of New South Wales’ Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing.

“We’re keen on bringing in the research ... because depression in seniors is a really big issue,” Mr Dowling said.

Half of Tapestry’s users are Americans, and the app’s growing international popularity will also be boosted by its selection in the federal government’s Advance Innovation Program, which subsidises start-ups’ entry into Silicon Valley to meet investors and develop strategy.

Mr Dowling said the next big release will be iPad and iPhone versions of the Android app.

Posted in Aged Care

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