From robots to online community spaces, these innovations foster relationships
Candace Lafleur’s life changed dramatically six years ago when she had a major stroke. “Suddenly, my whole world flipped; there was this massive loss of independence,” she says.
At the time of the stroke, Lafleur was living and working in London, England, with her husband and one-year-old twins. The native Edmontonian was in a stroke ward for several weeks, and, when she was released, she struggled with everyday tasks, such as using her phone.
“My husband had to be home [to care] for me or the hospital wouldn’t even discharge me,” she says. “It really changed my perspective.”
Lafleur began searching for technological tools that could help her regain some of her independence but she couldn’t find anything close to what she needed.
“It was mostly remote controls with oversized buttons,” she says.
Out of this experience, Lafleur came up with Mylo.
“Mylo is a home monitoring and companion robot aimed at helping people get out of hospitals faster and stay in their homes longer,” she says.
Four years ago, after she recovered, Lafleur moved to Ireland to take her MBA at Trinity College, which she completed in 2017. During that time, Lafleur, who had no experience with tech, assembled a team to design Mylo.
While she says Mylo can be assistive to anybody, the team dedicated itself to creating a robot that offers practical and genuinely needed assistance to people living with dementia and their families. This was done partially to narrow the team’s scope, and “partially because my neurological autoimmune disease [which caused her stroke] is likely to lead to developing dementia myself,” Lafleur says.
Her team interviewed more than 100 families living with dementia and then compiled a list of the common issues and challenges they faced, including isolation and loss of employment.
“We took those stories and we made a robot, as you do,” she says.
Every Mylo comes with a health monitoring watch — Fitbit Versa. Lafleur’s team worked with Fitbit so the watch pairs with Mylo and can detect falls and checks the person’s heart rate once every 30 seconds. Mylo can alert caregivers or emergency supports if its companion has a medical event. It also has an anti-wandering function, is a personal assistant, and works as a two-way video communication device that allows caregivers to connect with their loved ones whenever they want. All these functions can help manage the stress of caring for someone and the stress of being cared for.
Mylo is currently available in Ireland, the United Kingdom and most of Western Europe, and Lafleur says she is looking for a Canadian distributor. She says in-home trials and initial purchases in Ireland have been incredibly positive.
“Families with a Mylo report feeling more optimistic and their relationship ties are stronger.”
Part of Mylo’s success may be its approachable cat face. The team tried several versions during trials at care homes before finding the right fit.
“We tried a little girl face, a little boy face, a dog — nothing,” Lafleur says. “As soon as we made him a cat, he drew a crowd. We got the same reaction in a few more places, so now he’s a cat.”
Huddol (pronounced “huddle”) taps into the power of many to help users overcome their health challenges. First launched in Quebec in 2017, it is a free online community that brings caregivers, health-care professionals and organizations together.
“Huddol combines the lived experience of peers with the knowledge of professionals in one community,” says Mark Stolow, Huddol’s founder and CEO.
Users can ask for help, share a story or provide advice to other users on health topics they have experience with. For example, health-care professionals and families living with dementia can interact to help each other find the best advice specific to their situation, as well as local resources. As part of the site’s giving economy, Huddol members earn virtual HDL tokens for their support of one another. These tokens can be redeemed to get discounts on health offers in Huddol’s Wellness Marketplace.
“Rather than it being a more passive search, we wanted it to be about asking for help and getting help,” Stolow says. “Our community comes to your doorstep to help you.”
To join Huddol’s free community, visit Huddol.com.
DementiaTalk is a not-for-profit online space where people living with dementia, their families, care partners and friends can share and discuss information.
“We wanted to create a way for people to connect and get information, no matter where you live,” says DementiaTalk co-founder Christine Prysunka, who also leads online services for the Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories.
In 2017, Prysunka partnered with Fadi Khalil, a partner at OVERT Information Systems who, inspired by the dementia experience in his own family, volunteered his time to create this new virtual community. Groups on all sides of the dementia experience are already collaborating on the platform — free from the influence and distraction that often shows up on social media.
“We take privacy very seriously. We don’t allow any advertising, and we’re not asking for money,” Khalil says. “This is a safe place for people to have a discussion, to get support from the community.” [ ]