People like the elderly have difficulty with staying connected during the pandemic. This can be resolved with a mobile application that establishes a buddy system. The service matches users who answer daily prompts and stay connected through the use of asynchronous voice messages.
During the pandemic, my grandmother passed away. As the first major death that I experienced, I began to think about the significance of staying connected to the elderly during the pandemic and beyond. While my grandmother was surrounded by family and friends, a lot of senior citizens do not have people to talk to.
More information for the quantitative and qualitative research:
“Seniors with Skills, Online Buddy Program” helps the elderly be more sociable during the pandemic. For 30 minutes once a week, more than 200 volunteers are using technology to make connections with seniors around Buffalo. During these chats, everyone shares stories. My project is larger in scope, pairing virtual buddies throughout the United States.
“Papa” is a service that matches millennial-aged workers with older adults to assist them with everyday tasks, such as picking up groceries and prescriptions. Papa pals are paid to be caregivers and receive health-related information about the seniors, such as medication, dietary issues, and details about support in the area. As a result of the pandemic, Papa provides virtual companionship to provide assistance. The caretaker and the senior citizen engage in conversation. They still help the elderly with physical assistance.
I interviewed ten people. They consisted of three senior citizens, three people who have worked for retirement communities, and four young adults. I found the following insights:
- Elderly who spend a considerable amount of time with their families may not interested in a virtual buddy system, but those who lack close relationships do
- Elderly prefer audio messages or calling over text messaging
- Elderly who lack close relationships are willing to learn new technology
- Senior citizen homes that are temporarily closed offer virtual services, such as Zoom meetings
- Technology helps the elderly be less lonely, such as WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Zoom
- While some young adults are interested in participating in the virtual buddy system, others are not. People in High School or early college may be good candidates
- The elderly are not only lonely during the pandemic, but also desire information
- In a virtual buddy system, privacy is an issue. Scammers may call the elderly
- Young adults regret not interacting enough with the elderly
- Young adults enjoy receiving wisdom from the elderly. Likewise, the elderly enjoy sharing wisdom
“They’ve been very isolated and for preexisting conditions, things have had more time to become more pronounced. You know, anxiety. Certain mental health conditions. They miss their routine. I’m program director of the senior center so they’re missing coming to their congregate settings. They’re missing their friends. We are so fortunate that we’ve had two social media platforms before the pandemic.”- Kathryn, director of a senior center in Brooklyn
“I don’t have social media, but I want to stay in touch with people. This platform would be useful. I would talk mostly about politics and culture.” – 80-year-old Sasha, retired journalist in Brooklyn
“So many people do not have anyone to talk to. It was heartbreaking. I remember kids from schools used to come and volunteer. If they came, it was so occasional.” – Yelena, former caretaker in a nursing home
“Audio messages are a really good idea. WhatsApp is really good about that. Instead of just sending a text message, you can just send an audio message.” – Shreya, young adult and social worker
Based on my sketch and user journey, I created a rapid prototype in Figma. I sent my prototype to three users. They tested by screen recording their experiences, which I analyzed and discussed afterwards. I received a great deal of valuable feedback:
- Space out registration page
- Some text is not aligned
- Create a larger prompt question when recording
- Record option should not fill whole screen
- Include clear send button
- Question prompt should replace the day
- Add language option in registration
- Create return to home button
The mobile application is named Wizdom. The service matches young adults with the elderly. Each day, the users send asynchronous voice messages to each other based on daily prompts that evoke wise answers.
Throughout the process of this project, I learned about the importance of staying connected. Social isolation leads to both physical and mental damage. Once the pandemic ends, the elderly still need better ways to stay connected. My research and interviews showed that the elderly are willing to learn new technology. Additionally, I learned that social networking platforms have been proven to alleviate loneliness.