MIT-trained Victor Wang, Founder and CEO of GeriJoy, presented his company to the crowd at the July 2014 Silicon Valley Health 2.0 meetup at the Plug and Play Center in Sunnyvale. He started out by talking about his grandmother who was living by herself in Taiwan thousands of miles away from his family. When she was diagnosed with dementia, Victor said, his mom gave up a lot to provide her with companionship, care and oversight.
The Enormous Need For Caregivers
Victor’s family is not alone in making these kinds sacrifices so their loved ones receive good care. He says, “there are 16 million Americans that provide unpaid care for a family member or friend who has dementia. The dollar cost is staggering—$214 billion just in the US.”
Victor thinks the root problem is that there is a huge demand for caregiver hours that vastly exceeds the supply because of age demographics in the US—there are barely enough young people to take care of all of the elderly and the ratio is getting worse as the population ages.
Combining Human Compassion with Always on Avatars
Victor set out to “harness the global supply of human compassion, intelligence and care to enable families to provide loved ones with very cost effective company and supervision when they can’t be there.” His company does this by hiring people in the Philippines—where the age demographics are more favorable for caregiving.
The long distance caregivers monitor seniors in the US via GeriJoy’s innovative table-based solution that provides memory-impaired seniors with their choice of a too cute pet Avatar (two dogs and a cat). The Avatar is always with the senior providing him or her with a virtual companion. And, via the tablet’s camera microphone, the Filipino caregivers can see and hear what is going on with the senior and have the Avatar respond appropriately.
Victor says one of the keys to success is the Avatar. It is present in the senior’s life 24/7 providing a consistent personal relationship. This, he notes, is important for dementia care and people with memory impairment. Because they the Avatars are dogs and cats, they are able to leverage the known health benefits of pet & virtual pet therapy. He also says having pet Avatars helps to build a more joyful and lighthearted relationship with our older adults. The Filipino caregivers use information from the family and/or the family portal to have the Avatars are able to converse with the senior about family memories, family members, and family photos. The caregivers can also keep family members informed by posting comments about their interactions with the loved ones.
Watch the video
See how people with Alzheimers respond to their GeriJoy companions. What a good idea.