Pet avatars offered as a solution to caregiver crisis at TEDMED
The thought of virtual pets evoke 1990s toy memories for millennials, but a new incarnation of such may help stave off dementia in their grandparents- and provide them enriching social connections.
GeriJoy companions, virtual “talking dogs,” are now providing pet therapy, personal companionship and computer services to the elderly, and peace of mind to their long-distance loved ones.
“We’ve transformed what it is like to be a caregiver,” said GeriJoy CEO Victor Wang, as he presented his tablet-based software at the TEDMED 2013 conference in Washington, D.C.
Wang says he was inspired to create the real-time avatars as a result of his family’s experience emigrating from Taiwan- and his grandmother’s subsequent deep depression as she remained behind, alone in their home country. His parents could not afford to employ the services of a caregiver, so they lived in fear that his grandmother would harm herself, while they were rendered helpless.
“We can help increase seniors’ self-worth and improve their mental health,” Wang says, noting that more than 800,000 Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s disease live alone, and that more than half of those lack a caregiver. These numbers are expected to exponentially increase in the next two decades, and the current four-to-one ratio of able-bodied caregivers per senior is expected to drop to one-to-one.
“There are not enough real people in the U.S.,” says Wang, and he sees his GeriJoy companions as a solution to not only providing seniors with emotional interaction, but capable of updating scattered family members with the condition and overall well-being of their loved one.
Each avatar is monitored 24 hours a day by GeriJoy staff who are available to engage each virtual pet in dialogue with its senior. Relatives can use the company’s website to upload photos and updates for seniors to view and talk about with their companion. GeriJoy staff log the content of each interaction online, so that family can see how their loved one is faring.
Wang predicts that his software will soon be helpful in detecting senior abuse and accidents, as well as have the capacity to provide daily medication and activity reminders.
Wang says GeriJoy is changing the traditional definition of caregiver. “It’s about the joy, conversations, friendships and health that comes from all of this and the relationships that we build.”
To learn more: www.gerijoy.com
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