Increasing social isolation and an ever-increasing pace of technological change are impacting the ability for some seniors to remain living independently. Noting a lack of devices on the market which are designed with seniors in mind, in 2020, two Matamata accountants designed and launched their own device – Kitcal.
“Recent studies have shown that in New Zealand, 60% of those over 70 years don’t have what are considered “essential skills” such as the ability to download an app or carry out online banking. If you’re not online, you’re being left behind and that scenario contributes to loneliness, depression and social isolation – all of which researchers have discovered are contributors to dementia,” says Julie Caldwell, who founded Kitcal along with fellow accountant, Julie Blackwell.
Noting that some elderly struggle to manage the regular changes that come with standard tablets and smartphones – especially following system upgrades where the look of the interface can change – the two Julies created a more simplified design to suit older customers. Kitcal took a standard Android tablet and modified the backend to override the usual user interface and replace with Kitcal’s own heavily simplified one. After multiple sessions meeting with groups of seniors to determine what their key needs were, the women came up with a device which would provide core communications options only. “We were trying to strip the device back to some core functionality which would allow seniors to remain living independently,” says Ms. Caldwell.
The main functions that were top of the list for the seniors they met with were the ability to receive photos and videos from family and friends, the ability to keep in touch via video or voice calling, a calendar function to remind them of appointments and the ability to receive text messages. Many senior people are not comfortable with touchscreen technology and find the size of the keyboards difficult. For this reason, the Kitcal does away with the keyboard and instead provides simple buttons for the user to either respond to a message or photo with an emoji or to request a video or voice call. The unit also comes with two wooden stands which have built in magnetic charging cables so that the user can have one stand at their bedside and the other in their living room.
“The Kitcal is ideal for those people who aren’t internet savvy and who don’t tend to use email or a smartphone. We wanted to ensure there was no opportunity for the user to get scammed via email or internet connectivity and so while the device comes with a SIM card to provide data connectivity, it is a closed system with a family administrator and a vetted list of companions so there is no risk of a scam occurring,” says Ms. Caldwell.
Another key benefit of the Kitcal device is that family members can remotely put reminders into the device for appointments, social events or even a daily check in request. With a simple press of a button, the user can signal to their family that they are well or, if there is an issue, can request a call. “This is a huge contributor to supporting older people to remain living independently,” says Ms. Caldwell.
To find out more about the Kitcal device, go to https://kitcal.nz/