This guest post is submitted by Stuart Arnott, Founder of Mindings.
I’m often told that what is interesting about Mindings is that it was originally created for a personal need, then developed from that point. Very often, care products and services are created to primarily meet the need of the service provider, but when “person-centered care” is the priority, this approach is totally wrong.
I built Mindings for my own family. My technology-shy father lives alone, five-hundred miles away in Scotland, and I have a five-year-old daughter he doesn’t get to see often enough. If I wanted to, I have the technical know-how to wire up my Dad’s house with webcams, motion sensors and so forth, and that would certainly suit my needs as a concerned son wanting to know his Dad is okay. However, would that meet my Dad’s needs and wants? What does he need and want? Well, primarily he wants his own independence: even if that means getting a little help to achieve it. Some more social contact would be nice, particularly with his wayward son living in That London. What he doesn’t want is to feel spied on and monitored all day long.
So, how do we create something that can primarily address the needs of my Dad, but also my needs as someone wanting to supplement his care?
We’d actually tried one of those internet-connected digital picture frames with my wife’s Grandmother. She lived in New York and had developed early-stage Alzheimer’s. With four children, five grandchildren and three great grandchildren spread across UK and America, we thought we could cheer her up with pictures of her family. However, although a great idea in theory, in practice we discovered these devices are very difficult to manage, and essentially just serve up a screensaver of random pictures. Crucially, without captions, the pictures have no context. As a person with Alzheimer’s, receiving pictures of people and scenarios she didn’t recognise and weren’t identified actually became a source of distress rather than comfort.
And, what a shame we couldn’t send her text messages, the communication medium du jour; what a shame she missed out on all of the family Facebook activity; and wouldn’t it have been nice if we could add family visits, birthdays and doctor’s appointments to her calendar.
My answer, too late for her, but there for my father, was to create Mindings, a social hub on a digital screen, with a feedback loop that lets the sender know their content has been received. Think of it as light-touch telecare using the power of social media. We call it “social caring”. It’s available now, as an App that you can run on pretty much anything with a screen and an internet connection (my Dad’s got it on an ancient laptop).
If you’re wondering where the name comes from, it’s an old Scottish word that my Gran used to use. A “minding” is a gift of little or no value, given to someone just to let you know you’re thinking about them. When thinking for a name for the service it seemed appropriate, particularly as I so wanted to avoid the condescending names given to most senior care services, like SeniorCare, OldieMonitor, GreyControl and DecrepitWatch. Okay I made these up, but they’re not so far from the truth: they certainly all allude to the age of the user and the fact that someone needs to monitor and control them. Products for “young” people are marketed as being “cool”, why are products aimed at seniors so patronisingly marketed? It’s a lack of person-centred consideration.
So, how do we think “person-centred”? Well, in order to do something differently, it’s often useful to do the complete opposite from everyone else. For example, there are several new telecare products for seniors that use the latest GPS technology that’s used in car sat-navs and mobile phones. They come in the form of pager-like devices, pendants and even bracelets, to be worn or fastened to the person being cared for. Look at how they’re marketed: it’s often about how it gives piece-of-mind to the carer (that’s not a bad thing, by the way, carers need all the help they can get). But, lets look at it another way and turn it on it’s head. I buy my Dad a GPS tracker so that I know where he is. That makes me feel good. Okay, but with Mindings, I check into a location on FourSquare or Facebook, it tells my Dad where I am and that makes him feel good. I receive confirmation he’s read it—so I know he is okay. And I didn’t need to spy on him to find that out, it was on his terms. The consideration of the needs and wants of my father is at the centre of the care solution.
Mindings has been self-funded up to this point, and because we chose to use off-the-shelf technology it’s been created relatively inexpensively. We’re now looking for funding and partnerships to scale up and move us forward. However, with access to funding easier than ever—everything from Technology Strategy Board SMART grants to KickStarter funding—expect to see some great innovation coming into the social care space. It won’t come from big technology and telecare companies, but from ordinary people with great ideas, inspired by simply wanting to better care for their own families, friends and communities.