October 24th, 2019

// New communications platform aims to prevent social isolation by connecting older adults with family and friends

New communications platform aims to prevent social isolation by connecting older adults with family and friends

MONCTON, NB, Oct. 23, 2019 /CNW/ - A new Canadian-designed messaging platform offers older adults with little to no computer experience or with sensory loss an easier way to stay in contact with family and friends.

"Our goal is to break down walls and re-engage older adults who are not online and may have vision, hearing, motor skills or language barriers that isolate them from family and friends," says Robert Arn, co-founder and chief technology officer at Famli.net Communications Inc., developers of the new platform.

Called FamliNet, the platform makes it easy to send voice, text or video messages and photographs. 

A public beta version that can be used by seniors and their families wherever they live was released this week at the AGE-WELL Annual Conference in Moncton, New Brunswick. AGE-WELL, Canada's Technology and Aging Network, has supported the development of FamliNet.

"Staying connected to meaningful relationships is one of the leading determinants of health and quality of life," says Dr. Arn. "This service is specifically designed to help seniors preserve those relationships and to prevent social isolation, which is all too common among older adults." 

Until now, FamliNet has been used by residents at several retirement and long-term care facilities in Canada. 

For Richard Ratcliffe, 91, who lives at Sunnybrook Veterans Centre in Toronto, Ontario, the platform has "opened up a whole new world." Life had become lonely for the war veteran and career naval officer because of profound hearing loss from "being a little too close to gunfire in Korea."

Things changed when Ratcliffe began using FamliNet. He now shares pictures, videos, audio and text messages with family and friends on a daily basis. 

Says daughter Steph Gagne: "FamliNet has opened up horizons for my dad. It has brightened his world."

For multilingual families or groups, the program automatically translates everyone's messages into each person's preferred language in both text and voice. The initial version supports English, French and Mandarin Chinese, with 30 more languages to follow.

FamliNet requires minimal training to use, even for those with no computer experience, says Dr. Arn. Seniors were involved in testing the platform, which features pictures of the user's contacts and straightforward icons to access the different types of messaging. It also connects users to online services, news and games. 

FamliNet works on any device that runs a web browser and will soon be available for iOS mobile devices. It can be accessed at www.famlinet.com and runs without downloads or installation complications. There is no cost until January 2020, when a monthly fee will be introduced.

Dr. Arn says he expects that family members may often be the ones to introduce the platform to the older adult in their family—and to underline "why it is worth a try." 

Seniors who have difficulty typing will benefit from FamliNet's ability to record a spoken message, transcribe it into text and deliver it to a relative or friend in both spoken and text form.  

Those with poor vision can tap a large icon to hear a text read aloud. 

FamliNet was initially developed by TAGlab at the University of Toronto, under the direction of Dr. Ronald Baecker. TAGlab and Famli.nethave deep roots at AGE-WELL as they are funded through the AGE-WELL Core Research Program. 

About AGE-WELL:

AGE-WELL NCE Inc. is Canada's Technology and Aging Network. The pan-Canadian network brings together researchers, older adults, caregivers, partner organizations and future leaders to accelerate the delivery of technology-based solutions that make a meaningful difference in the lives of Canadians. AGE-WELL researchers are producing technologies, services, policies and practices that improve quality of life for older adults and caregivers, and generate social and economic benefits for Canada. AGE-WELL is funded through the federal Networks of Centres of Excellence program. www.agewell-nce.ca.

SOURCE AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE)

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