myhomehelper – a winning solution for dementia

Connections talks to Kevin Marsch, of Simpla Solutions, about myhomehelper – a winning solution for dementia.

At the Technology4Good Awards event in July, a project called myhomehelper, designed to help people with dementia to stay active and informed in their own homes, scooped the People's Award and came second in the Winner of Winners' Award.

The judges and voting members of the public were so impressed by the project that we were keen to find out more from its creator, Kevin Marsch, of Simpla Solutions. Here's what he told me....

Kevin, how did myhomehelper come about?

The idea began when I went on holiday in 2010. Whilst I was away my Mum got very anxious about where I was and when I'd be back, phoning friends and family daily, even though we were in regular contact with her. Soon after that Mum was diagnosed with vascular dementia, so when I needed to go away again I set up a simple message with the current date and time on an old PC just to remind her I was away and when I would be back.

This seemed to work well, so when I got back I decided to expand this, adding more reminders. I also added photos that had been stored out of sight for a while that I knew she'd enjoy seeing again and could help her to remember occasions she may have forgotten.

After receiving some encouraging feedback from the local council’s Telehealth team, who had heard of the system through care workers visiting Mum, I quit my job in April 2011 and formed Simpla Solutions to focus full time on myhomehelper.

How does myhomehelper work?

Because I can't be with Mum all the time, I created a simple website so that I can make changes remotely to what she sees each day. This keeps things fresh for her and gives me some peace of mind too that she's up to date with what's happening.

I added video calling to the system, which helps me to stay in closer contact with her. I can also send instant messages whilst speaking to her that appear on the screen, which works well for her as she is practically deaf, but she can easily acknowledge what I'm asking her during the call.

I've also added the capability to link to and display live news feeds, which has definitely helped Mum to feel less isolated. There is also a hook into Facebook. Mum doesn't know she has a Facebook page – I manage it for her – and it means that relatives can leave her messages on her page and she gets them via myhomehelper instead.

There are currently two versions of myhomehelper – an installed version which runs with Windows and a web-based one which can run on anything that has an internet browser. They both have the same features but the installed version is a little more robust and can be slightly more personalised to the user.

So does myhomehelper need a family member or friend to set it up?

Obviously I started this for Mum, but I understand there are approximately 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK and that this is likely to rise significantly in the future.

The key design principle behind myhomehelper was that my Mum must be able to use it without having to do anything. She had no idea how to use the computer, so I had to ensure that all the features would work without her interaction.

myhomehelper can be set up by anyone who cares for someone with dementia, knows their daily routine and what they need and enjoy. Obviously to add things like photos they may need access to personal files, but otherwise anything is possible really.

Have the Techonology4Good Awards been helpful?

Entering the awards was really worthwhile for me. I'm still a one man band just now, and it was great to be able to share a platform with the likes of Barclays Bank and Osborne Technologies.

Just being shortlisted was a real breakthrough in terms of awareness. Because the Peoples' Choice Award encouraged public votes through Twitter I think being up against the likes of Barclays was a bit of a help too, as I was able to appeal on behalf of the little guy...!

In the end I think the reach through re-tweets and the like meant that news about myhomehelper reached a potential audience of over two million people – and the website got a huge upturn in traffic as a result.

What's the future for myhomehelper?

The system has been piloted successfully in a number of UK and US households over the last 18 months and it's currently being trialled in communal care homes with Sheffield NHS.

We're also getting interest for conditions other than dementia. There has been a lot of interest in the area of learning difficulties, so now we're working to see how myhomehelper can be used to support that condition.

myhomehelper will go live as a full offering in September this year. Users will get a free 30-day trial and then it costs £9.99 a month – but there will be no tie-in contracts.

Anyone who would like to try using it for themselves can sign up for a free trial at www.myhomehelper.co.uk. There's no commitment and we don't take any payment card details.

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