.

Online networks that bring people together

Often the people we care for can feel isolated from their friends and family, however there are now many on-line networks to help alleviate this, so retaining connections and community.


Recent discussions on Twitter about the use of technology to help older people keep connected to friends and family, followed by news reports about the new Vincles BCN social networking app being developed in Barcelona (and due to launch later in 2016) has prompted this article. The team working on Vincles BCN are currently at the prototype stage, although the features shown look promising.  The way a person's support network is visually represented as a circle with images of the people in that social circle looks interesting and we'll be watching it develop.

In this article we've brought together a list of many similar apps and websites that serve this purpose. These existing apps can help families stay in touch with loved ones, and help older isolated people to stay in touch with each other.

None of the apps listed here can, or should replace real face to face contact with the person being looked after. However, each app provides useful features as part of an on-line network of support for people we are unable to, for a variety of reasons, be close to in person. Also, each app is slightly different (both in functionality, pricing model and in some cases quality) in their approach to building the social support network.  Some are online only and others actively encourage physical interaction.

In addition to these apps, of course you shouldn't overlook Facebook, the largest social network on the planet. Facebook groups, either open, closed or secret can be a great way to build an on-line support community, and as so many people already have an account on the network it’s not a steep learning curve for them to join in. There may also be specialist social networks or forums that revolve around a favourite hobby, place or pastime, such as arts and crafts.

It's always worth being reminded about using the web safely, Digital Unite have a number of pages on their website covering on-line safety, for example a general step by step guide to web safety and some safe e-mailing tips.


Specialist Networks

We've identified a number of bespoke networks listed here which fall into two categories, although there are a lot of crossovers and possible dual uses. Broadly there are :

  • networks which can be used by people to keep in touch with their friends socially;
  • networks where a parent or care provider has some degree of input to ensure the person being cared for is safe and well.

We suggest you try each of these for suitability to your circumstances, so we offer no in depth review or critique here, but we will keep the list updated with changes or when new systems are available. 

Caremerge

Caremerge say that care should be simple and their family of care products and apps have been designed to be just that. They are a US based company who have produced a care coordination platform hosted in the cloud. It is focused on simplifying communication and forging meaningful connections between care providers, payers, families and people that are cared for. It is accessible by web or mobile and brings together all the people involved in older person's care in a meaningful way through a comprehensive solution that’s intuitive, seamless and easy to use. The solution centers around the person, allowing all Authorized care providers to see each other’s activity and communicate through HIPAA-compliant group messaging. On one front, it helps staff connect with outside providers so quality of care is improved and expedited. On the other, it helps to keep families engaged and up-to-date with their loved one’s overall well-being, providing peace of mind.

CareZapp

This smartphone/tablet app and website provide an on-line care circle based on three main elements. CareZapp enables you to build a 'Care Group' of people the way you need it and with controlled access. Members are informed of any news or updates to the person being cared for on the ZappBoard. CareZapp can be combined with a wide range of sensors and devices within different rooms and on access doors which send continuous streams of movement and activity data and alerting or notify caregivers or care groups when required. The 'Vitals' extension allows tracking of health information which can be easily recorded (manually and/or via digital health devices) and viewed on the Vitals dashboard.

Care Zone

Care Zone is part of a larger family of apps and websites designed to make managing of a persons care and support needs easier. The extensive list of features ( https://carezone.com/features) includes shared calendars, contacts, photos, medication lists and to-do lists. Care Zone is free and includes iOS and Android apps.

Circle (Now see Rochdale Circle)

Possibly the closest match in the UK to the Vincles BCN platform mentioned above, Circle was an innovative membership-based service run by Participle which closed in 2015. It was open to anyone over the age of 50, supporting individuals and communities to lead the lives they want to lead. The Circle networks supported their members across four areas of their lives: social activity, life’s practical tasks, tailored learning and appropriate health and well-being services. Unfortunately the only remaining local Circle active (but it is very active!) is the one in Rochdale. Other Circle networks did exist in Southwark and Nottingham.

DropBy

Designed to combat loneliness among older people and others who are isolated or housebound, the Drop By website is aimed at people over 60 as a way to help keep active contact with family members. Using the simple and secure space online, members of Drop By can chat, exchange ideas, send messages and share photos and experiences in a way that is easy to use, particularly for those that are new to the internet. This is a free service when you sign up as a member.

FinerDay

Is a web and mobile app based free "Social Operating System" which allows all family members and friends to easily keep in touch, whoever they are, wherever they are and whatever their ability technology-wise. It is easy to use by all ages, from grandparents to grandchildren - for sharing messages, photos and memories and for web browsing.

Jointly

CarersUK, the national membership charity for carers in the UK, have developed the Jointly app as a tool to make caring for someone a little easier. This iOS and Android app costs £2.99 to set up a 'circle of care' where you can organise the communication and coordination between those who share the care. The app includes facilities to record medications, appointments, tasks and contacts all designed to reduce the stress often felt when arranging care by family members and friends..  

Mindings

The Mindings website and and app connect socially isolated people to their family, friends and community and provide reassurance that they’re okay. Mindings is a subscription based private social network that shares content on a digital screen (such as a tablet computer) in a person's home.

Older Is Wiser

This more akin to Facebook or a message board than a separate app and social network, but has current news feeds for grown-ups and many active conversations by older people for older people.

Rally Round

Works as partnership between health professionals, a community and the person you want to ‘rally round’. It enables you to set up simple ‘to do’ lists and notes. It’s ideal for a dispersed group of people caring for someone. The group of people providing the support are sent a daily e-mail or can access the care via an iOS App.

Your Link

This Australian based app is designed to help older people stay in touch with family and friends, the services they need and the things they enjoy doing. The app is designed to make sure information is relevant, helpful and easy to access. It also enables users to message family and friends whenever required, see what is going on in the local community, find services available in the local area and receive regular updates from social or interest groups in the area. 

If you know of others, please leave details in the comments section below.

Technology & social care e-bulletin

Connecting Care issues a monthly e-bulletin rounding up the latest technology and social care stories for providers of adult and social care. It's free for anyone interested in technology and adult social care.

Subscribe to the e-bulletin…

Twitter