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Engagement, tech and 3Ps of data

One of the more noteworthy government appointments in recent weeks was that of 42-year old MP Tracey Crouch to be the new UK ‘Minister of Loneliness’. Although it initially sounds a bit like part of a Monty Python sketch, this is no joking matter. One might assume this role would be unique to the land of stiff-lipped and buttoned-up Brits, but the move resonated far and wide; there’s increasing awareness of the dangers of isolation – some even going so far to call it a global epidemic.

In a time of exponential technology and near ubiquitous connectivity, why are people feeling ever more isolated and further apart? The problem is particularly acute in aging populations, caused, according to a recent IBM report on the topic, by six forms of loss, made up of both individual and societal factors. This article highlights some recent innovations in the field, both in the US and abroad, that aim to balance technology with humanity, and conclude with some thoughts on the coming data revolution that will take things to the next level.

Embedded communications

It’s often easier to use things that people are already familiar with, rather than learning a whole new user experience. As such the humble TV is becoming a useful platform: Independa has been leading this charge, while UK startups Daisy and Sentab and Israel’s Uniper are adding “smart” boxes (devices plugged into existing devices) to make TVs better at connecting older people.  

Innovative interfaces

Results of a recent test of Alexa devices by Front Porch found it improved the lives of all pilot respondents and 71% “felt more connected to friends, family and the community”. Marvee (among others) has built a dedicated ‘skill’ (app) for Alexa. Others are building their own hardware, with ‘social-robots’ – Jibo, Elli-Q, AV1 from Norwegian startup No Isolation and Catalia – promising more emotional connections via a novel, more human-like interactions.

Joining the dots

New services join up social and medical inputs, so the ‘social determinants’ of health are captured and can provide a better understanding of activity and engagement levels. Best Buy has moved into this space with their $30 per month Assured Living service, while numerous other startups have developed easy to use platforms, including: K4 Connect, Cubigo, CarePredict, Echocare, Alcove, Canary, Uniper, T7 and Birdie.

Connecting the generations

Technology can unlock stories and memories, providing immediate benefits to older people, drawing families together and helping staff and caregivers provide more personalized and relevant care. A number of startups are enabling ‘legacy’ such as OneDay (see Box below), Memory Well, Remarkable Lives and Storyglory. Keepy enables easy day-to-day sharing of children’s’ artwork with grandparents, while Picniic helps families collaborate.

Case study: Resident storytelling driving measurable impact with OneDay

OneDay, an app targeted at senior living operators was launched in 2016, now live in the USA and Europe, now has 780 communities live. It creates resident engagement by enabling a staff member to make a short video each month, which are then shared with the family. Interviewed for this article, founder John Boaz, says that communities report more visits and phone calls from family members who receive these updates, which they put down to families now having more knowledge about their family member’s past and more questions to make conversations easier.  It has been a hit with visitors too; communities who show a resident video during tours for prospective clients reported a 45% increase in their close ratio. OneDay calls up these people and 90% of them report that seeing the video – and the high levels of family engagement – was a strong motivation for them to move in.


Humanitas in Deventer, Netherlands is one of several Dutch nursing homes that have opened their doors to students into one of their nursing home, benefiting both residents and students. Lifestyle focused senior living is emerging: Jimmy Buffet-inspired Margaritaville sold 10x off plan, LGBT-focused (Fountain Grove Lodge) has seen strong demand and other themes are attracting interest: active adult (Canvas Valley Forge), vocation (The Actor’s Home), education (Vi), luxe (London’s Auriens) and travel, arts & culture (The Wylde) and even NFL players. Montreal’s YIMBY is testing a shared living approach aimed squarely at Millennials.  

Boosting local communities

The power of connections to radically improve a community’s health has been demonstrated by the Somerset village of Frome, where emergency admissions rose 29% in surrounding areas, in Frome they fell 17%, driven mostly by efforts to deliver a tighter, more integrated community. In London, The Common Room, created by The Age of No Retirement, is looking to establish local intergenerational innovation hubs, in Los Angeles, Anthem’s CareMore has turned care centers into more welcoming ‘social spaces’, and across the US, Engage is connecting older adults by unleashing their creativity and co-creation. A number of projects are combining offline and online local communities, such as the popular NextDoor app, and a new social network focused on healthy ageing, Iris, being launched in Orange County. New York-based OATS has started working with Age Friendly New York to help older adults leave Facebook reviews, creating a data layer that could be used to help inform policy makers.

Going forward: harnessing data for good

Some of these services above are just good ideas and don’t lend themselves easily to being measured and tracked. However, in particular for those living in long-term care and expensive residential communities, there will be growing interest in learning about what works and what doesn’t, and a key to that will be data.

Case Study: Personalized engagement with Linked Senior

Washington, DC-based Linked Senior, an engagement platform used by hundreds of US residential communities, is taking a data-driven approach to engagement. Their software enables providers to build personalized plans based on the resident’s unique profile and interests, drives engagement through its platform and tracks participation levels. The data enables staff to measure engagement and share reports where relevant.  Users get up to 46 minutes of personalized engagement per day, compared to a national average of 11 minutes, and some clients are reporting their platform helps reduce dependence on antipsychotics (in Kendal’s case this went from 17% to 0% on antipsychotics within one year).

Linked Senior (box above) is just one of a number of companies creating and capturing data about engagement and using it to improve the quality of life and business outcomes. Going forward expect to see innovation around the data happening in three areas: personalization, performance and proactivity.

Personalization. Gone are the days when it was OK to provide a one-size fits all service to everyone. Group activities have their place and are unlikely to disappear completely anytime soon, but now there is no excuse in not knowing more about the unique preferences of people and using technology to measure how engaged people are and tailor services accordingly. Service providers will increasingly be able to tell what percentage of activities that an older adult is participating truly matches their unique needs and preferences. Important note: given the recent furor over Facebook’s use of user data and the personalized targeting of political messages, the onus will be on those with the data skills to also ensure rock-solid security, transparency, easy to use instructions and above all, a mentality that puts the individual’s needs first and foremost.

Performance: What gets measured gets improved and as families and staff have more data about the type and level of engagement, it will be easier to see what works, and why. A key consideration here will be integrating the engagement data into the other data streams such as their medical record to create a holistic picture. We will soon be able to understand what activities are having the most and least impact in improving the quality of life, and alter plans accordingly.  

Proactivity: With information about the most effective parts of personalized care, we will increasingly be seeing tailored proactive ‘life plans’ – not just care plans but also recommendations for non-medical interventions around engagement that should have biggest impact. This is already happening in a fairly ad hoc way, with the use of ‘social prescribing’ in the UK (profiled by the Economist here). Expect to see more specific recommendations for ways to engage with the mind, body and soul.

No amount of smart, data-driven technology can – or should – replace family, friends and genuine connection. The ‘killer app’ will likely remain for the foreseeable future, meaningful human relationships. However for the increasingly large numbers of people who are feeling lonely and isolated, it’s likely that new services and new approaches to using data can help mitigate the effect of loneliness can be effective compliments to the vital ‘human’ side of connection.

(Note: a modified version of this article will be featured in a industry magazine – forthcoming)