Interview with Softrama, Makers of Seniorama Pointer 2011

There is so much innovation in senior care right now.  Much is being created along the care side, but few companies have dared to propose new technology directly to seniors.

It’s a tough nut to crack. Even thought seniors are getting more  comfortable with technology, it still takes a special solution to be able to make technology engaging and useful.

I had the chance to speak to Gal Har-Zvi of Softrama, the makers of Seniorama Pointer 2011. It’s a software application that transforms your existing computer into a senior-friendly operating system.  Below is the transcript of our interview with some screenshots of the application at the end of the interview.

Tell me a little about the company?

Founded in 2009, Softarama Ltd is a dynamic Israeli software company with a broad array of products for personal computers. We make each and every product affordable and friendly to the user. Our specialty is creating reliable desktop applications that improve PC performance and accessibility for non-tech-savvy users.  Softarama’s products are being used on a daily basis by tens of thousands of satisfied customers across the globe.

How did you personally get in the busy?

Softarama’s CEO, Shalom Ben-Moshe and I, are good friends since college. It was almost a year ago when he told me that Softarama is developing an innovative tool for seniors that will make every computer super easy for them to use. I was so excited by this great idea and had asked him to join this venture. The issue is also very important to me, since we all would love to see our parents and grandparents make better use of the Internet and open-up to the world.

What is the problem you’re trying to solve?

Apart from being an antidote to loneliness, the Internet can provide seniors with health information, access to groups coping with issues like chronic diseases, daily news, how-to instructions, where to find products and services, pen pals – And that’s just for starters! However, despite all of these benefits, according to latest Pew study, 42% of seniors age 65-73 and 70% of those 74+ are not online. This is mostly because they find computer s too complex and difficult to use and not because they don’t want to. We have created a great tool, which transforms any computer into an intuitive, easy-to-use machine – From start-up to shutdown, in a way that is most suited for seniors and anyone who may have visual problems, learning difficulties, cognitive impairment or, unfortunately, a neurological disease of some sort.  Now everyone can enjoy the benefits of using a computer and going online.

There have been several attempts at senior-friendly computing.  What makes you different?

Seniorama is different from several aspects.

First, no need for buying a new computer, or any other electronic device. It only requires a simple PC or laptop, and many people already have one that they can give, or share with their aging parents.

Second, many of these attempts have failed because the products were too complex for seniors to use. Many of them had too many features and their design was not friendly at all. We’ve put a great emphasis on research and conducted many studies to decide what features to include in Seniorama and to come up with the optimal Graphic User Interface. Seniorama is the simplest and most useful and intuitive computer interface on the market.

Third, while these tablets, senior-friendly computers, and even iPads cost at least hundreds of dollars – Seniorama is sold at a mere $97. We did our best to make this affordable to each and everyone, thus bridging the online gap.

What are some key features you’ve built?

It was difficult to choose what features to develop, since our main goal was usability and simplicity alike.  After conducting a lot of research we have decided to include Email, Video and audio calls, Internet browser, Brain-fitness games and Photos albums. Seniorama can also read the emails out loud, record and send a voice emails  24/7 email support available.

Can you describe the installation?

The installation process takes about 5 minutes. After downloading and running the software, the supporter (e.g Charlie, the grandson – The one who installs the program) is being asked to insert the license key and the user name for which to create a customized email address (e.g grandpa Mike, the actual user). Then Charlie can also add his name to be displayed on Mike’s address book as the first contact person.

Charlie can also choose to have Senoirama start automatically when Windows starts, to shut down the computer when the Mike has finished the session, to have bigger fonts and mouse pointer and so on.  It’s really very simple and includes on-screen instructions during the whole process.

How does it work for people who already have PCs?

Exactly the same as above.

Where can people go to take a look at the product?

They can find it along with other great products,  at our website at www.softarama.com/Products/Seniorama.

Review: A Good Vibe From San Clemente Villas By The Sea

I recently had the pleasure to speak at San Clemente Villas by the Sea.  I’ve spoken at many senior communities across four states now, so I was excited to speak in what was essentially my backyard.  I like to share my experiences at each community; many of your are considering senior living communities, and exposure to different places is useful for everyone.

San Clemente Villas by the Sea is a community located in San Clemente, California.  San Clemente is a beach town between Los Angeles and San Diego, and is the last town south before you have 30 miles of beautiful beach views en route to San Diego.

The first thing that struck me when I walked in was the positive energy I got from the community.  So often you walk into a senior living community, and it has a hotel feel. Even though residents are engaged, the front desk often seems like “check-in”, and you really have to get into the community to get a flavor for its personality.  The management offices are separated from the residents and it just feels, well, separate.

With The Villas, it was different.  Owner Aileen Brazeau has done a great job there.  It seems more like a party–music, chatter, people laughing in the sitting areas and a staff that was completely engaged in the residents.  This was a big differentiator for me.  Whereas many communities have staff know their residents and interact with them, the staff at The Villas knew the residents.  They were engaged, joking around and everyone was smiling.  I rarely get such a positive vibe, so I was really looking forward to the tour.

San Clemente Villas by the Sea offers independent living, assisted living and dementia care, all laid out in Hawaian themes.  I spoke to a few residents; they were happy about living there and felt it was a good social outlet for them with good care.  The community itself had modern decor and the rooms were no different.  Since The Villas is located on a hill, many of the rooms have a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean.

In terms of amenities, they had it all and took the extra step to provide residents some comforts of home.  For example, rather than just a fitness class, they had a pretty nice gym (coming from a gym nut like myself).  Instead of just an activity room for bingo, they had a professional bingo board where the numbers light up.  Instead of just a restaurant with hours for snacks, they had a coffee shop area with snacks. They also had a pool and a jacuzzi, which lent itself to several activity classes not normally senior in senior living communities.

All in all, I was very impressed with the community and the vibe. The owners clearly hire people that were not just qualified, but enjoyed interacting with the residents.  Often that makes the difference between just good care and a good experience!

To learn more about San Clemente Villas by the Sea, visit their website.

Top Brain Fitness Programs for Sustaining Mental Acuity

In aging seniors, healthy brain function is about more than just memory and coordination; everyday tasks, relationships, hobbies and quality of life are all affected.  It stands to reason that the more aware and capable you are of cognitive reasoning and performing independent living activities the higher your self confidence and emotional health.

The nation’s largest study on brain fitness was performed in 2002 by the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) and their results showed that a large percentage of participants over the age of 65 improved memory, reasoning and information-processing speed when they participated in training for five days per week.  In addition, the study showed a 47% lower risk of dementia in participants who worked crossword puzzles four days a week than those who only worked the puzzles once a week.  These results play into the notion of “Use it or Lose it” when it comes to cognitive aging.

Furthermore, an Australian study consisting of 30 peer-reviewed papers in controlled trials found that, as people experienced these lifestyle benefits they were also able to live longer and therefore reduce health care expenses.

Along with these studies, it is widely known that many seniors regularly engage in crossword puzzles, Sudoku and similar brain training games to slow dementia and aging.  Many software companies have tapped into this need by creating games and exercises that aid in sustaining mental acuity.  It has been reported that the brain fitness software market grew from $225 Million in 2007 to $265 Million in 2008.  Here are the top three systems that claim to reduce dementia rates in seniors.

Posit Science

Posit Science claims that their products will help the user “think faster, focus better, and remember more.”  Their software programs are designed for either a PC or a Mac. Each priced at $395.00

  1. Brain Fitness Program: Six programs that allow you to “Remember more & Feel Sharper” by practicing matching items, distinguishing objects, memory recall and story telling.
  2. InSight: Five programs designed for “Better Focus & Learn More” focusing on visual precision.
  3. DriveSharp: Two programs that deal with divided attention and increased processing times so that you will “Drive Carefully & React Faster”

Dakim BrainFitness

Dakim offers two brain training concepts for seniors.

  1. A complete self-contained console that only needs a high-speed internet connection but does not require a keyboard, mouse or software program installation.  It is marketed to both the individual senior and the senior living provider.  After the initial purchase of $2,299 for the touch-screen console, more than 150 games are available for a $19.95 per month subscription.
  2. 2. New brain fitness software to be released this April for $349.99, which includes a one-year subscription.

CogniFit

CogniFit is a web-based system that does not require you to install software or purchase a console.  Instead you access the programs through their website.  Both programs described below are priced based on the following subscription terms: $19.95 per month, $99.50 for 6 months, or $170 annually.

  1. CogniFit Personal Coach:  This program addresses overall cognitive skills and claims to improve memory and focus, and increase processing time.
  2. CogniFit Senior Driver: Similar to other driving programs, this system is designed to improve reaction time, handle multiple driving tasks and focus on potential road threat recognition.

About the Author: Ryan Malone is the founder and managing editor of Inside Elder Care and the author of the By Families, For Families Guide to Assisted Living.  He can be reach on Twitter at @RyanMalone.

Finances and Dreamers and Dementia Care, Oh My (Podcasts)

What a great week we’ve had over at Leaders in Elder Care!

For those of you who don’t know what it is, Leaders in Elder Care is a podcast-based interview series that seeks to share the great things individuals are doing to change the face of elder care.  These are the entrepreneurs, politicians, advocates and caregivers who put it long days to make things better for seniors.   Through Leaders in Elder Care, we give them a chance to brag a little bit about what they are doing.

Each podcast is about 20 minutes and enables our Leaders to share their vision, method, results and futures with you via an intimate, no-frills conversation.

Below is a summary of some of the great interviews we’ve had in the last week.

I would love to hear what you think.  Be sure to leave a comment below and share your thoughts!

The Financier – Senior Lines of Credit

Elias Papasavvas came to the United States with nothing.  His parents were robbed at gunpoint.  As his parents aged, he saw the immense pressure families are put under when they need access to money for elder care and residential care.  That pressure often forces people to liquidate assets at times when their value is the lowest.  He combined his finance experience with a clear market need to create Elderlife Financial and invented the “senior line of credit.”

Read more about Elias and listen to the podcast.

The Dreamer – Ageless Dreamer

What if you could give an elder friend or family member the dream they always wish they had?  A ride on a Harley?  A college diploma?  A sailboat ride?  Laurie Widmark and Ageless Dreamer (a non-profit) have done just that.  Laurie and her team diligently review each Dream request and work hard to put smiles on faces that say “dream fufilled.”  When I first heard Laurie’s story, I said to myself “This is what it is all about!” It was such an amazing interview and Ageless Dreamer is such an amazing idea.

Read more about Ageless Dreamer and listen to the podcast.

Dementia Care – Sollievo

Ellen Dunnigan saw a critical gap missing in the market for dementia-focused home care.  And boy did she fill it.  Sollievo means “relief” in Italian and the mission of Sollievo is to provide just this.  Sollievo is one of many alternative care models sprouting up around the country.  Ellen’s view of a 360-degree care philosophy designed specifically around those who have or are impacted by dementia is really unique.

Read more about Sollievo and listen to the podcast.

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Airplane Races at Atria Woodbridge

As I did when I visited Belmont Village Cardiff, I try and share my tour experiences when possible as there are some very dedicated people out there building and operating great communities.

I had a unique opportunity a few weeks ago to spend some time with the executive director of Atria Senior Living’s community in Irvine, California.  Atria Woodbridge is a relatively new community built in 2001.  The executive director, Ladd Roberts, has only been there a few years, but you can tell in the way he speaks about the property that he has an enormous amount of pride in what he does.  That’s one of the main things I look for in an assisted living community, so it was refreshing to get the vibe from the beginning of our discussion.

Convenient Location

Atria Woodbridge is set between two major freeways in Orange County – the 5 and the 405 (yes, Californians actually do say “the” in front of highway numbers).  This makes the community easily accessible from Los Angeles, San Diego and the Inland Empire (an area east of Orange County).  It’s also only about 8-10 miles from John Wayne Airport, which I would argue is one of the easiest airports in the country to fly through.

Atria Woodbridge is tucked between two upscale strip malls, making shopping, dining and small conveniences only a few steps away.  They’ve done a good job lining the community with trees to present a clean separation between the shopping center and the community.  Outside the entrance sits a very inviting social area with outdoor furniture.  I spend many evenings at home on the patio, and this subtle touch brought some nice memories and made a good impression.

A Grand Entry

Walking in, the first thing I noticed was the cathedral ceiling.  The ceiling had exposed beams much like you would see at a ski lodge and serve a great purpose in opening up the entrance and “presenting” the community to new visitors.  Under the rotunda a few steps down the hall sits a grand piano.  It is the focal point of the room and the divider between the residences to the right and the activities and dining room to the left.

Real Librarians?

Most all assisted living communities have a library or community room of some sort.  A few things struck me as unique at this community.  First, a second piano was placed just to the left of the entrance. Ladd Roberts told me this particular piano belonged to one of the residents.  I smiled because I can imagine the sense of homeliness that resident must feel knowing their “baby” is here with them.  It was certainly a nice touch by Ladd to make this a centerpiece of the room.

Second, a two-sided fireplace separated the room, which added a great deal of privacy and enabled it to be used for multiple things.  In fact, it was well before lunch and several groups of residents were gathered in their own groups having a nice time.  (Note: if you’ve read my book, you’ll know that I recommend visiting communities outside of dining hours to measure the social level of the residents and staff)

Finally, Ladd told me the library is staffed with retired librarian residents.  I thought this was a clever way of providing a sense of purpose to these ladies who no doubt have a great deal of pride in their former careers.

Confident Quality

In my book, I share tips on how to measure the quality of a community by interviewing general and executive staff.  I do this because many communities don’t make quality assurance and audits a focal point of their prospective resident tours, so the burden is on the customer to perform that level of due diligence.

Surprisingly, Ladd brought this up proactively during the tour and told me a little about how Atria performs internal audits.  After probing a little as to the depth of the audit, Ladd chuckled and told me that his 700 item internal audit was so detailed that he didn’t have to prepare much for the state health inspection.

To be fair, I didn’t dig into their audit paperwork and processes, but it’s been my experience that those who confidently share their quality plans and audit processes are the ones who deliver a quality product.

The Zen Master

As one might expect, Ladd was saving the best for last.  The activity area of the building wraps around a courtyard.  Ladd calls it the Zen Garden.  Why?  It was authentically decorated in a Japanese theme with waterfalls, fish and plans all over.  It was very quiet with the exception of running water from the waterfall.

Ladd says this is his place to come think, and you could tell that it was a warm and happy place for many residents.  For those residents that want a complete change of scenery, the Zen Garden will transport them to a different time and place.

Got plane?  Wanna race?

Earlier in the tour, we were walking through the activity room and there were several model planes hanging from the roof.  Ladd told me these were built by one of the residents.  He shared with me a story about how they had model airplane races in the dining room one day.  He boasted he had it on video and I convinced him to let me share it.

But before I show the video, I’ll end by saying that I was impressed with Atria Woodridge.  I was also really impressed with Ladd Roberts and his team.  I could tell he cared a great deal about his impact on the residents, and it was obvious he ran a high quality community.

Nice to meet you Ladd, and thanks for the tour!

Here’s the video:

Book Review: The Caregiver in MidLife by Ellen Besso

The Caregiver in MidLife
Where Theirs Needs End and Yours Begin
By Ellen Besso
(Self-Published; 101 pages with exercises; $14.99 e-book)

It’s no secret that I am not among the norm as someone who is the primary caregiver for his family.  In fact, 73% of caregivers are women, the average age of which is 46 years.

Many books on caregiving have been released over the years.  On the surface, Ellen Besso’s book, “The Caregiver in MidLife” may appear like that of a traditional caregiver book.  In fact there are some things in common: personal stories, self-cleansing and strong bonds between the writer and reader that “we’re in it together.”

By that is where the similarities end.  You see, Ellen Besso is a life coach.  And the words “victim” and “cannot” are not words commonly used by coaches – especially life coaches.  It’s here where Besso’s book creates separation and a credibility that cannot be denied.

Besso takes a unique angle in discussing the expectations, emotions and transformations Baby Boomer women face in their role as a family caregiver.  Besso argues that women are hardwired to be caregviers and details fascinating conflicts between the demands of caregiving and life realities such as hormonal changes, motherly instincts and the pressures to “finally do something” with one’s life.

“The Caregiver in MidLife” teaches you how to regain the life you put on hold, and how do it in a way that is comfortable, empowering and respected by the loved one to which you provide care.

Chapter 4 addressed a topic I’ve not thought of formally, but one that is real.  The chapter focuses on role changes as women move through life.   Besso argues that as women grow, they separate from their parents and learn to better create boundaries between the role of mother/father and daughter.  As a caregiver, the role of daughter and caregiver can sometimes be in conflict.

Besso also shares a very interesting theory that some sibling caregiver rivalries may be a subconscious way of trying to be the “favorite” in the eyes of the parent.  While that is likely not the case in our family, I can see where lingering feelings from childhood could manifest in this fashion.

Besso’s coaching skill comes through more subtly at the beginning of the book.  But it takes a far stronger and more inspiring tone as the book progresses.  I found myself excited in a Tony Robbins sort of way to take control of my situation, draw boundaries and regain control of the parts of my life that had been neglected.

But one area that left me yearning and somewhat confused was in Chapter 7.  In this chapter, Besso describes her experience moving her mother to an assisted living community.  Whereas Besso assumed total control of her circumstances earlier in the book, her almost fight-free acceptance of her mother’s care being under someone else’s control seemed to contradict the books premise.  I was expecting an equal if not more determine tone from Besso as it is such a transformative transition for any family.

“The Caregiver in MidLife” also includes a book of exercises addressing time management, personal feeling and attitudes and support networks (to name a few).  Kudos to Besso for including these exercises!  I am huge fan of them because they personalize lessons learned in the book and enable the reader to move from hypothetical to practical at their own pace.  There is a reflective power of workbooks enabled when you can review your thoughts and progress from time to time.

Overall, I was very happy to read the book and thought Besso did a good job of mixing the encouragement of a coach with the reality that we face as caregivers.  At 101 pages, it is a quick read that will leave you feeling upbeat and better prepared to address your own life.

“The Caregiver in MidLife” is available at www.ellenbesso.com.

Dakim Battles Dementia and Alzheimer’s

This morning I went to the gym, just like I’ve done 3-4 times a week for years.  I really try to push myself at the end of each workout.  My motivation comes from my desire to be healthy, active and have the longevity to spend many, many years with my wife and daughter.

But did you know your brain is a muscle?  What if I told you your brain could even have its own personal trainer?

It’s true, and it’s called Dakim BrainFitness.

A Brief History of Dakim

In the late 1990s, Dakim CEO and founder Dan Michel became very frustrated with the cognitive stimulation tools available to his father who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease.  Taking matters into his own hands, he built a collection of rudimentary games to exercise his father’s brain. Over time, Dan’s creations become more complex and challenging.

When it became clear Dan’s analog tools had reached their potential, he realized it was time to go digital.  Dakim was born and Dan was driven with the thoughts of his father’s progress to create a memory training system that could be used over the long-term to create the type of improvement many scientific studies had promised.

Dakim’s Promise

A number of studies exist (read them at Dakim’s website) that correlate consistent mental stimulation with a decrease in Alzheimer’s and dementia.   One such study in the New England Journal of Medicine(1) found that seniors who consistently particpated in highly mentally stimulating leisure activities had a 63% reduced risk of dementia.

The Dakim BrainFitness system provides a mechanism through which seniors can regular exercise their brains in a way that is fun, non-repetitive and interactive such that they look forward to playing every day.

How it Works

Dakim BrainFitness is a purpose-built computer with a touch screen.  Headphones are optional depending on your location.  Dakim BrainFitness combines medically-proven brain exercises with a user interface that is so incredibly simple.  Combining audio, visual and eye-hand coordination, the games are played at a pace that is both fun and challenging.

Dakim BrainFitness trains across six cognitive domains and game takes about 20 minutes to complete.  As players improve on one domain or the other, the system increases the difficulty, enabling users to both play at their own pace yet still be challenges.  Dakim recommends the games be played 20 minutes per day, 3-5 times per week.

When you get it right, you get nothing but encouragement.  And when you get it wrong, you get nothing but encouragement.  Incorrect answers were communicated in a way that inspired me to continue, rather than frustrated me to quit.  And the content of the game was set in the era most relevant to the players – two examples of the little details that make the difference between a good idea and a effective, well-thought product.

Software updates and new game content is update via the Internet automatically — typically at night when nobody is playing.  Dakim Brain Fitness is maintenance free and require no computer skills to operate, clearing a huge usability hurdle for many seniors.

Pricing and How to Buy

Dakim BrainFitness comes in two models – a model designed for elder care communities and a home model.  Dakim shared with me only the pricing for the home model which was $2,499.  Dakim also charges a monthly $50 fee for software maintenace and the downloading of new games and lessons.   Dakim offers a 30-day moneyback guarantee – a testament to their confidence in their product.

My Throughts on Dakim BrainFitness

During Brookdale’s Brain Symposium, I spent nearly a day next to Dan Michel and his head of sales, Rick Sill.  On a perosnal and professional level, these are good guys who have the right intentions for elder care — a personal experience and the drive to help others benefit from a good idea.  From a product perspective, I was very impressed with the Dakim BrainFitness system.   It was easy to use, fun to play and based on sound science.  I thought the pricing for the device was quite reasonable – it was about the same as the cost of the Mac I am writing on now and my monthly gym membership.

Surely that is a small price to pay for a 63% reduced risk of dementia?

I recommend you take a look at Dakim BrainFitness.  Spend some time on their live product demonstration.  Their website is packed full of good materials and plenty of videos for those of you who hate reading page after page of web copy.

Sources:

  1. Verghese J, Lipton RB, Katz MJ, Hall CB, Derby CA, Kuslansky G, Ambrose A, Siliwinski M, Buschke H.  The New England Journal of Medicine, 348: 2508-2516.

Cardiff by the Sea: A New Belmont Village Community

Friday night, I was invited by the folks at Belmont Village to the open house of their new community in Cardiff by the Sea, California.  For those of you who don’t know, Cardiff is about 30 minutes north of San Diego and is, well, by the sea.  Cardiff holds a sweet spot in my heart, because it happens to the area where I grew up and where my mom had her stroke.  I drove by that spot hundreds of times over the years.

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Your Eyes and Ears: Connect for Healthcare

Here’s a problem that many of us face — obtaining wellness updates about your loved one without troubling the staff or being intrusive to your loved.  And the problem is compounded if you are the primary caregiver and have friends and family living out of the area.

How do you minimize the phone calls, get more usable detail from wellness updates and enable the staff members to focus on providing quality care for your loved one?  How do you gain the peace of mind in learning your loved one’s condition without sounding like a nag?

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