MIT-based startup GeriJoy launches virtual companionship service for elderly with virtual, talking dog for your loved ones suffering from loneliness.
Do you know a senior who is spending the holidays alone? Research consistently shows that loneliness is linked to depression and even Alzheimer’s. In fact, just last week the Wall Street Journal wrote about a new study supporting the link between loneliness and dementia. And elderly people don’t have to be alone to suffer from loneliness; for example, feelings of loneliness are prevalent in senior care facilities such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
That’s why Victor Wang, an alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), decided to start GeriJoy. “My home-bound grandmother lives alone, and when she started to suffer from depression and suicidal symptoms, my family struggled to find a solution,” says Wang, who grew up in Canada, where he served as an army officer. So when he finished his graduate studies at MIT, researching human-machine interaction for NASA’s telerobotics program, he set out to develop a solution and lead a revolution in senior care. Teaming up with co-founder Shuo Deng, a PhD candidate in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) at MIT, they started what AARP and other thought leaders consider to be one of the most innovative companies in senior care.
GeriJoy makes talking pets for lonely seniors. The pets are virtual, and run as a software service on tablet-based devices. The current version of the software is essentially the modern realization of the fabled talking dog. It provides the availability and unconditional love of a pet, combined with the ability to talk with true intelligence and compassion. Through sophisticated, patent-pending software, the pet reacts realistically to touch and care from the senior, and because it lives inside the tablet, it can deliver the health benefits of pet therapy without any smells, allergies, cleaning up, bites, or food and veterinary bills. Being software, the virtual companion could in the future look and behave like anything: a cat, for example, if the senior has such a preference. However, as most who have interacted with the GeriJoy companion agree, the truly amazing part is the conversation.
GeriJoy employs a worldwide network of specialized staff, who use GeriJoy’s proprietary web platform to provide the intelligence behind each GeriJoy companion. This allows seniors who are subscribed to GeriJoy’s service to experience truly intelligent and compassionate conversation, with the pets serving seamlessly as avatars for GeriJoy’s staff. Thus, conversation can be about almost anything. GeriJoy offers a web platform for families to easily upload photos and updates. The GeriJoy companion presents this family content intuitively to the seniors to spark family-oriented conversations, throughout the day, every day. Moreover, the web interface allows family members to view daily logs and updates about how their loved one is doing, allowing greatly increased peace of mind.
Clearly, the benefits are enormous: improved mental health for the elders and reduced stress for their families. In particular, Alzheimer’s patients can benefit from daily reinforcement of family memories and relationships. And by building a stronger family connection, family members enjoy an improved experience when visiting their loved one at home or at the care facility.
A recent alumnus of the NYC-based Blueprint Health accelerator program, GeriJoy has ambitious goals to revitalize the senior care industry. After months of testing their service at top-rated senior care facilities in both Boston and New York City, GeriJoy has announced that they are now available for consumers for the December 2012 holiday season and beyond.