Co-funded by:
Mentored by:

Pharaon project pre-validation testing in the Izola Retirement Home

In Europe, where the population is aging rapidly, there is an increasing need for technological solutions to improve older people’s quality of life, social inclusion, independence and overall health. The Pharaon project, funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020, aims to support the aging population by adapting digital services, devices and tools. In Slovenia, Pharaon will provide appropriate technological solutions to support independent living, increase social inclusion and improve well-being for older adults.

Pharaon partners develop, design and integrate technological devices to improve quality of life with the smart bracelet, Daisy video-conferencing, IoChat, SeniorsPhone, motion detection sensors, pressure and air quality measurements, call buttons and the IoTool, SmartHabits and Discovery platforms.

  • The smart bracelet ensures the safety of older adults in care homes. It measures heart rate, steps taken, type of activity and calories burned to inform caregivers about the well-being and inconveniences of older adults.
  • The Daisy video-conferencing system allows communication with fellow care home residents, relatives and friends, and, if necessary, doctors and healthcare staff. Daisy is used by the elderly via television. Their caregivers can connect to the system via the IoChat platform on a browser or smartphone, which, in addition to video-conferencing calls, also allows them to send messages and files.
  • SeniorsPhone is an app that makes it easier for older people to use their smartphones to call, text and locate caregivers, relatives and friends.
  • Various sensors detect room changes and ensure older adults’ safety. Air quality sensors measure room temperature, humidity, hazardous particles, carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds, important markers, especially during a pandemic. Motion detection sensors notify caregivers of unusual movement patterns via the platform so that appropriate assistance can be provided in case of problems. Call buttons can be pressed by the elderly when they need help, and the device can be kept with them at all times (e.g., on a strap around their neck).
  • The IoTool platform collects data sent by the sensors and smart bracelets, encrypts, stores, and processes it before being sent to the SmartHabits platform, which analyses the data and detects anomalies.
  • The Discovery platform extracts the data from the SmartHabits platform to display it in a meaningful way in the form of graphs, which caregivers can then use to optimize the older adults’ environment and provide necessary assistance (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Gadgets and sensors to improve the well-being of older adults: (1) air quality sensor, (2) motion sensor, (3) call button, (4) smart bracelet, (5) SeniorsPhone app, (6) Daisy video-conferencing system, (7) Discovery platform for displaying sensor data, (8) IoChat platform.

The Pharaon project is pre-validating these technological solutions, which will allow each to be further refined and used in a June 2022 pilot study.

InvisibleCare, a solution based on sensing technology to support older adults’ care and well-being, is also being tested. This service is connected by the Discovery platform, where data from the smart bracelets and sensors is fed (Figure 2). In addition to InvisibleCare, Pharaon is testing tools to support communication, increase social inclusion and reduce loneliness with the Daisy video-conferencing system, SeniorsPhone app and IoChat platform. SenLab has developed a set of these tools (Figure 3).

Figure 2. InvisibleCare: (1) Data collection: motion sensor, call button, smart bracelet; (2) Sensor data display: Discovery platform

Figure 3. Tools to support communication and increase social inclusion (reduce loneliness): (1) Daisy video-conferencing system, (2) SeniorsPhone app and (3) IoChat platform.

Pre-validation serves to test the set of tools described above as a whole system and gather as much feedback as possible from the Pharaon project participants (older adults, caregivers, friends and relatives). Technology providers will use this feedback to improve the digital tools, eliminate errors and ensure that the digital tool system is appropriate, secure (including user privacy) and, above all else, adapted to user needs.

During pre-validation in autumn 2021, Pharaon researchers in Slovenia organized four groups of older adults, one group of medical staff and one group of family members in the Izola Retirement Home—18 total participants. The researchers explained the purpose and objectives of the Pharaon project and presented the project technologies to the participants. Participants then tested the technologies and gave their comments. Researchers gathered information on possible improvements to the technology solutions and drew up a list of mistakes to be corrected.

Older participants found most of the technologies useful, and they particularly liked the sensors for monitoring indoor air quality. Some technologies, especially touch interface tools, will need to be adapted in subsequent phases to meet older adults’ specific needs and be easier to use. Formal caregivers (i.e., medical staff) are overloaded and rated the usefulness of the technologies lower, while informal caregivers (i.e., relatives) showed more interest in using the technologies. Some caregivers rated the technologies as very useful (e.g., “My mother will finally be able to use the phone” [SeniorsPhone]), while others think that there are already competing technological solutions (e.g., “I talk to my mother via Skype or Whatsapp, IoChat is just another app I have to have”).

In January 2022, the technology solutions were re-tested as described above. Participants used them for 14 days and then provided feedback on failures and possible improvements. In total, this phase (Phase 2) covered 28 people. Some participants tried the solutions for the first time, and some tried them for the second time.

Older adults’ satisfaction with the solutions increased after 14 days of use, and the possibilities for further tailoring the solutions to each individual, rather than just a population group, were highlighted. Formal caregivers overwhelmingly recognized the simplicity and usability of the Discovery platform in Phase 2, which is consistent with the results reported by informal caregivers.

Technology solution providers will continue to adapt these tools to the participants, making them as easy and simple to use as possible. In the pilot study, the technology solutions will be offered to more older adults in the Izola Retirement Home and elsewhere in Slovenia.

Digital Assistance for the Silver Years, an international event, will be held in May 2022 to present the current situation in retirement homes globally, technological solutions, older adult needs, good practice examples and projects and research regarding the aging population, including the Pharaon project.

In Slovenia, InnoRenew CoE leads the technology solutions implementation in the Izola Retirement Home, which has been selected as a pilot site. SenLab, Ericsson Nikola Tesla and Ascora contribute and improve the technology solutions. Slovenia’s National Institute of Public Health contributes insight into the needs of older adults and disseminates project results. In the pilot testing, project partners want to connect with other retirement homes to test the adaptability of the solutions for older people and their caregivers.