the boom in applications to stay in touch with seniors

Create a family diary, share photos on television or tell stories on video: offered by start-ups, new services to keep in touch with the elderly are very popular in the midst of the health crisis.

Since the first confinement, Josette, who celebrates her 89 years in March, has received a newspaper in her letterbox every month containing photos and messages from her four children and eight grandchildren. “It’s a great idea, it allows me to keep in touch with my family when at the moment we can’t get together,” she told AFP.

“Every time I have her on the phone, she talks to me about it!” Says her granddaughter Gabrielle, 26, who appreciates the simplicity of the system. Each family member submits their photos to an app or site, which then takes care of the layout, printing and shipping.

Neveo has been offering this service on subscription since 2016. “The idea was to find a solution that does not require special training”, explains Simon Desbarax, co-founder of this Belgian start-up with 100,000 users, which has experienced a peak activity in March-April.

Its competitor Famileo also saw the messages intended for the grandparents pouring in during the first confinement, strict and marked by the ban on visits to nursing homes. Its number of users almost doubled last year to exceed one million.

This particular period “reinforced our conviction that our solution was suitable and met a real need”, indicates Tanguy de Gélis, co-founder of this start-up launched in 2015 in Saint-Malo.

For its part, Sunday offers the elderly to receive news from their loved ones on their television, thanks to a box. The family sends photos and videos through an application, the grandparent can react to them with an ergonomic remote control.

– “Uniting the generations” –

“These services make it possible to maintain a family bond which is a very important resource for the elderly, especially those who live in institutions”, comments Valentine Trépied, sociologist specializing in aging. However, “they are not suitable for all elderly people, they are aimed at those who have a great deal of autonomy”.

Difficult to leaf through a magazine or watch television in the event of visual or hearing impairment, for example. In these cases, contact by touch (holding the hand, caressing) becomes essential.

Start-ups, which market their solutions to the general public as well as to retirement homes, are nevertheless trying to adapt their products to the elderly.

“The challenge is to bring together all the generations, to involve the elders without it being complicated”, describes Nelly Meunier, co-founder of Sunday, which has sold nearly 13,000 devices since 2018 and lists 100,000 users on its application. The Bordeaux start-up launched new functions and doubled its turnover last year.

A similar story with Story Enjoy, which offers grandparents the opportunity to film themselves while telling a digital book and to transmit the video to their grandchild. “The application has been designed so that people far from digital can use it easily,” explains Caroline Lopez, co-founder of the company created in 2018.

The context of health crisis and restrictions “has pushed some to get started, especially the elderly,” she said. During the last year, the Reunionese start-up tripled the number of new subscribers and recruited older users, up to 75 years old.

For many seniors, digital technology has made it possible to re-establish contacts during confinement, according to a study published in June by Les petits frères des poor. However, 4.1 million French people aged 60 and over “never use the Internet, especially the oldest and most modest”, indicates the association.

“We need people to help us access the Internet”, underlines Philippe Wender, 83, president of the Citoyennage association, which brings together residents of retirement homes. In the one where he lives, residents are supported to make video calls to their loved ones.

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