As head of a startup, David Axelrad is having a hard time convincing the people he needs to convince – his customers – that they really could use his product.
Maybe it’s because it’s not a simple retail good, like soap or CDs, but a system that allows the families of dementia patients to stay in contact with their stricken relatives even if they’re not there. Since most prospective users of the system reside in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, Axelrad has the challenge of convincing both the institutions and the families to buy into his product.
Axelrad, along with brother, Rob, a computer maven, have put together a system that piggybacks on the Skype video conferencing tool and allows the children of dementia patients to call in and launch a video and audio connection with their folks, even if their parents don’t have the wherewithal to even pick up a phone.
“The service can be used in private homes as well as long-term care facilities or even rehab hospitals,” said Axelrad.
Video-conferencing over Skype or other software solutions is nothing new, but he and Rob have modified it so that neither the patient, nor nurses or caregivers have to answer the call. In this way, the family retains control, and staff at the institutions are not taken away from their other tasks, Axelrad said.
Axelrad has launched a company, aptly named ReKinect, that places a high definition monitor with speakers, an unobtrusive computer and an Internet camera in a family member’s room, whether in a seniors home or in their own dwelling. When someone calls in, the system launches automatically and the family member can then call their parent to the screen and have a conversation with them, he said.
It also permits family members to see if there have been any changes to their loved one, whether it’s a bump or bruise, or whether they appear particularly disoriented. It provides peace of mind for those who cannot always get away for a personal visit, he added.
At a projected cost to the families of $49.95 a month, Axelrad is also considering bundling it with some other service, such as movies on demand that can be booked remotely. Right now the system “really is at an embryonic stage with a handful of people” who have come on board, Axelrad said.
But with Canada’s increasingly aging population and 540,000 families with loved ones in long-term care, there’s clearly a market for the product.
Axelrad came up with the idea when observing his father, Arthur’s, situation. A former leukemia cancer research scientist and professor at the University of Toronto, Arthur now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
He resides in a long-term care facility where his basic daily needs are met, such as meals, medication and nursing care. Yet Arthur collapsed alone in his room receiving facial bruises and blows to the head. His father was unable to answer phone calls or initiate a call so David and Rob came up with a solution. They placed a monitor in his room connected to the Internet; when someone from the family calls in, the image pops up on the screen in full HD, along with the high quality sound, which assists those like Arthur who are hard of hearing.
Timing of the calls take into account Arhtur’s daily routine.
Barbara Axelrad, Arthur’s wife, said “I can call my husband in the morning, see he’s all right and get on with my day without worrying how he’s doing before I see him again later that day. And if I’m sick or he is and we can’t get together, at least we can stay connected. That’s really something quite special.”
A variation of the system now being developed would permit more able patients to initiate a call by simply touching an image of a loved one on the screen.
It also permits family members to consult with doctors and caregivers over the network – a solution that is not quite a personal visit but better than a phone call, Axelrad said.
For more information, call 416-519-8700 or firstname.lastname@example.org. ReKinect's website is www.rekinect.ca.