Allwayswithyou keeps families connected and memories alive

3 Dec 2018

From left: left: Brad Vrabete, Majella McMahon and Ger O’Keeffe, co-founders of Allwayswithyou. Image: Phil Miesle

Our Start-up of the Week is Allwayswithyou, a Clare-based firm that has created a cloud-based digital family platform.

“Ireland is in the midst of a loneliness epidemic,” warned Ger O’Keeffe, co-founder of Allwayswithyou. “We have over 1m adults aged over 60, and one in three of them lives alone.”

Allwayswithyou, a company based in Co Clare, intends to give people a fighting chance against loneliness by creating connections.

‘Every family on the planet will at some point have to experience this situation, which can be a traumatic time often resulting in loneliness’

“Loneliness has been described as a state of being where a sense of separation pervades the body and mind. Analysts assert that it is now more dangerous to society than obesity and is now considered to be the most serious health issue in the UK.

“Research has established that loneliness significantly increases the risk for premature mortality and has long-term medical consequences such as heart disease, cancer, depression, diabetes and suicide,” he explained.

The market

“We provide a family platform to families who have an older adult in home or residential care, typically a parent,” O’Keeffe explained.

“Every family on the planet will at some point have to experience this situation, which can be a traumatic time often resulting in loneliness.

“Allwayswithyou is a cloud-based digital family platform that is simple, intuitive, affordable and entertaining. It enables people to continue sharing their lives, particularly older adults living alone in private homes and in long-term care settings.”

The founders

O’Keeffe is a technology entrepreneur and co-founder of Assuré Medical, a medical device company; Arcovation, an internet of things system (IoT) integration services company; and Agrify, an agri-sector solutions company. Prior to 2017, he worked with Intel as EMEA marketing manager for retail IoT.

He has a multifaceted career working with in engineering, marketing, sales management, business operations and business management, working previously within the energy and intelligent transport system market. He holds a PhD in applied physics from Dublin City University and a BSc in experimental physics from University College Dublin.

Majella McMahon is a State-registered nurse, midwife and public health nurse with many years’ experience working in a variety of communities. She worked as an assistant director/PHN in the Early Years Inspectorate with Tusla.

Brad Vrabete has more than 20 years experience working as software and platform architect and has worked with leading MNCs including Intel. More recently he focused on entrepreneurship and is co-founder of Arcovation, an IoT solutions company, and, a shared economy start-up.

Jackie Marshall-Cyrus is director at Jackie Marshall-Cyrus & Associates, a boutique consultancy providing expertise on ageing and independent living to businesses and organisations. A registered nurse and nurse educator with more than 35 years’ experience, she holds a first-class BSc in nursing older adults, and a master’s degree in education.

With more than 10 years’ practice, management and leadership experience in the NHS behind her, Marshall-Cyrus was the lead specialist on the Independent Living Innovation Platform at Innovate UK until September 2016. There, she led several high-profile international, national, collaborative, business-led innovation challenges – most notably Delivering Assisted Living Lifestyles at Scale (Dallas) 2010-2013 and the Long-Term Care Revolution National SBRI Challenge 2013-2015. She has earned an international and national reputation for being a visionary, inspirational speaker as well as a thought leader and expert on innovation in ageing.

The technology

One family member sets up an account for the family via the website, inviting others to the platform to create a Family Circle. In parallel, there is an Allwayswithyou Player app that needs to be downloaded to the tablet of the older adult, typically a parent in home or residential care. There is a once-off code that needs to be entered once the tablet app is launched, and from that point onwards the Family Circle is linked securely to the tablet.

“The initial set-up steps take just a few minutes … it was designed to be simple and quick to set up,” O’Keeffe explained. “A vast array of content can then be uploaded by any member of the Family Circle and shared with the older adult via the tablet. On the tablet side, the user interface is designed for ease of use, with different usage modes to cater for different abilities, from fully interactive to fully automatic playback.

“The Allwayswithyou family platform is designed to help people reminisce about their past, retrieving fond memories of their childhood, favourite TV programmes, favourite music, favourite prayers or events, or just something that triggers nostalgia and brings a smile to their face.

“Basically, the family can quickly create a list of custom content that is available for playback 24/7. Most importantly, it allows grandparents stay in touch with the treasures of their lives – their grandchildren, that football game, that tennis match or musical performance – something that brings a smile to their face and that they are happy to watch over and over again. This in turn lifts their mood, and they become more engaged with those around them.”

O’Keeffe said that the Allwayswithyou family platform differs from other social media platforms, in that it is fully closed and secure. “We believe that the large, well-known social media platforms do not cater for older adults who might have limited dexterity and who have difficulties finding their way through the multitude of apps and content types that are available today.”

He said Allwayswithyou also differs by sending regular insights back to the Family Circle so that when family members cannot be physically present, they are still getting that comfort feeling from these insights.

“Our goal is grow our user base, not just in Ireland but internationally. As our user base grows, we will continue to integrate new features and capabilities based on our users’ suggestions and recommendations. We want to understand from a broad user base where best to focus our R&D so we can continue to deliver more value back to our user base,” he added.

“We have just recently launched the platform and are already seeing great interest not just from families here in Ireland, but we are also getting great interest from large multinational care organisations, especially in the UK and the US. We expect to begin work on language translations to non-English speaking markets early in 2019.”

Addressing dementia and Alzheimer’s

As well catering for the older demographic, the Allwayswithyou platform also caters for the growing number of people with dementia across the globe, which is forecasted to reach 130m by 2050.

“While pharmacological interventions are given the most attention today, psychosocial interventions are getting increased recognition in current research. The aim of using Allwayswithyou with people with dementia is to stimulate the person, provide enjoyment, and foster a sense of achievement and self-worth, as well as improve the person’s quality of life, behaviour [and] mood by reducing the sense of loneliness.

“We also expect that the platform may assist carers in developing a deeper attachment and connection to the person with dementia, thereby enhancing personhood and improving the whole caring experience.

“Of course, we know from research carried out in the UK that loneliness significantly increases the risk for premature mortality and has long-term medical consequences such as heart disease, cancer, depression, diabetes and suicide. The team at Allwayswithyou are driven by this, and are working to give all families a fighting chance against loneliness with the recent launch of the Allwayswithyou family platform,” O’Keeffe said.

O’Keeffe concluded that interested families who subscribe before 31 December 2018 will gain free use of the Allwayswithyou family platform until 31 December 2019.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years