By Olivia Ramirez
As a long-distance family caregiver to his 87-year-old mother, Claude Goodman understands the concerns many families have about aging loved ones who are often living at a distance — and, increasingly, in isolation. Concerns like, Is my loved one taking their medicine every day? Are they socializing? Are they safe at home?
More broadly, Goodman asked himself, How can we help elders live safely and independently, with a sense of connection and purpose, while ensuring their well-being and respecting their privacy? What assets do we have that can scale up to the magnitude required by the global aging challenge? Goodman ultimately realized that the greatest assets are the elders themselves. In turn, he considered how we might empower elders with tools to take care of themselves and each other.
Goodman developed CareWheels, a peer care program that connects participants into a social care network to reduce isolation and assist with medication adherence. Sensors installed in the home and an application on a smartphone, tablet, or personal computer are all it takes to join the CareBank, the platform that CareWheels is developing. Individuals use the CareBank App to connect to peers in their circle of care and then mutually monitor their daily activity patterns to ensure that they are safe. The CareBank transforms elders into community assets. It fosters peer-to-peer circles of care, called PeerCare, by connecting elders and transforming individual frailties into collective strengths.
Simplicity was the inspiration for the design of the CareBank App, which includes just two screens. The first screen shows an individual surrounded by their circle of peers. Each peer’s image is framed in a color that changes based on the current status of their daily activity patterns. Blue indicates that a peer has taken their medications and opened their refrigerator to have a meal. Red means one of these tasks hasn’t taken place on schedule. Tapping a peer’s image shows a second screen with their daily activity pattern and provides a call button to check in if a potential problem has been detected.
The goal of CareWheels is to provide people with purpose, comfort, and security. Other alert systems are meant to be used only when something bad happens, like a fall. The CareBank differs from these products because it is meant to be used on an everyday basis. Using the CareBank App, the PeerCare group watches for anomalies in daily activity patterns and responds – they don’t wait for a problem to become a crisis. Members know that they will receive hands-on help when they need it and find comfort in the fact that they have a network of peers looking out for them.
Many older people experience social isolation, which is associated with declines in mental and physical health. CareWheels aims to create connections that help people feel useful and cared for. Goodman said, “If a person has any doubts that they have people who care about them, all they need to do is look at the app.”
The positive feelings associated with caring for others and the comfort of knowing others are there for you are incentives for participating in PeerCare. CareWheels also provides an additional incentive through its CareBank App. Modeled after time banking, the CareBank monetizes caregiving services that are provided by members and rewards them. Each time a person opens the application and checks on their peers, they receive automatic time credits for their engagement.
Goodman decided to apply for a Healthy Longevity Catalyst Award from the National Academy of Medicine because he believed his project offers a practical solution to the challenging issues raised by increased human longevity. With his award, he plans to develop a low-cost, high-reliability sensor kit that utilizes existing infrastructure to scale up the CareBank social care network.
Goodman believes that PeerCare fosters interdependence, which is a critical asset in the field of healthy longevity. “The CareBank helps us take better care of ourselves by taking good care of each other,” he said.