Created by the elderly, for the elderly
This is a photo of John Almey, taken 7 hours before he died.
He looks sprightly, but he knew he was dying and his family were there with him. He’s in his own kitchen with his back to the Rayburn. He had just enjoyed a favourite meal – trifle with whisky. He was puzzled by “health foods”.
He relished watching any news about the Middle East. From Baghdad to Beirut, he could point out the places where he had been laid low by dysentery during the war. He explained how to keep your motor bike clean from desert sand – you hosed it down with petrol. He was puzzled by “health and safety”.
John still drove in his 90s despite his arthritic fingers. He couldn’t grip to turn the ignition key so he placed a spoon through the fob of the key and pushed it with his knee. The car started every time.
John’s independence was ingrained. He had run his own business, and built his own house, and that was the place where he intended to die. He courteously turned away any social workers who offered assistance – “Thank you, my dear, but that’s not really for me.”
John was my uncle, and he and I conspired together to keep the carers at bay. We did the obvious things to the bathroom, kitchen and staircase to demonstrate that he could be independent. But we drew a blank when it came to the pendant alarm.
“It’s useless,” he said. “I fell last week in the garden and I pressed the button but nothing happened. I must have been out of range. Then yesterday I slipped off my chair in the kitchen, cracked my head and I was out cold. How could I press the button then?”
So we started to think about what a proper alarm for the elderly should be like. John wanted it to be fully mobile so that he was not restricted to life by a landline. John certainly didn’t want to be stuck in the house all the time.
He wanted it to detect his falls automatically, and to send out alerts even if he was unconscious. John was insistent that it should check with him first before sending out a signal – “I might just have dropped the damn thing.” So we arranged for the alarm to talk with John first, asking if he was OK, before any alert call went out.
John wanted it to connect with whoever he wanted to connect to – a friend, a neighbour, and only to a call centre as a last resort. He wanted to be in control as much as possible.
I suggested that GPS would be a good idea so that we would know where to find him. “You don’t want to bloody know where I get to.” But John did agree that it would be a good idea for the call centre to know just where John had fallen and to get help to the right place.
And then we realised that most of John’s falls were not really falls but were slow slides into unconsciousness, and somehow we needed to detect those as well. So we developed an unconsciousness alert which can distinguish between taking a nap and being immobile for more than 25 minutes.
“So that’s what I want from an alarm,” John said. “It’s not much to ask is it?”
And so the first ever alarm for the elderly, actually designed by someone who was elderly, came into being.
It became a race against time. John set the targets and we worked to make them come true. We were working to stretch Android technology to its limits and coming up with new ways to configure a smartphone so that it could detect falls and send out unconsciousness alerts. “That’s too complicated,” John would say. “I just want one button to press.” So back to the drawing board.
The next version was better, but still not right for John. “If it’s a phone, then I want to use it to make calls, with big numbers so I can see what I’m doing.” This is where EE stepped in and provided us with a phone package which provides unlimited calls to UK landlines. “That’s not bad,” said John.
“But I’m not wearing it round my neck. It can go in my pocket. Is that all right?” That was fine by me.
Sadly John died before the race against time could be won. We finished the project after John’s death, and the MonitorGO personal alarm system was born. We decided that others should have a chance of taking benefit from what John had started.
When we came to choose the “face of MonitorGO” it was not hard to decide. John’s photo was taken only hours before he died suddenly, on his way up to bed, but his defiant and cheeky independence shine through and that is the spirit we shall try to sustain.
Article written by Stephen Bradbury, the founder of MonitorGO and the nephew of John Almey