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UC professor develops app that connects families with quarantined seniors

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Assisted living homes across the nation have limited visitors so senior residents don’t contract the coronavirus.
It’s left many disconnected from their loved ones, but now there’s an app for that. A University of Cincinnati professor created an app that turns iPads into digital picture frames that can connect senior citizens with their loved ones.

When Brett Harnett’s mother Lois was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s while living in Florida, he just knew he had to come up with a new way to connect with her.

“The phone calls we had with her became shallow, unengaging. We were trying to show a better way that we cared for her,” said Harnett.

That’s when the biomedical informatics professor dreamed up HiLois. The app allows family members to remotely connect to a loved one’s digital device and send them pictures.

“And then you do the phone call, and the first time I did that it was a picture of my stepdaughter playing soccer, and instead of saying ‘What’s her name again?’ or ‘How old is she?,’ she said something to the effect of, ‘Did they win?,’” said Harnett.

While the app was designed to connect with people who have Alzheimer’s or dementia, it can also help people who might be self-quarantined. HiLois has been rolled out in nursing homes all across the country, and those who use it say it makes conversations possible that weren’t possible before.

“We’ve done it with a couple different families that we have on hand and it’s been a great experience. It’s very slick actually,” said Al Baker, innovation lead for The Goodman Group, which owns senior living homes across the nation.

Baker says think of HiLois as an Instagram feed for your grandparents. HiLois has been coming in handy as senior facilities limit visitors.

“We’re taking care of a different part of the necessities for someone and that’s the social connectivity, which is so important even in times like this where there’s a really good reason to be isolated," said Baker.

While HiLois wasn’t originally designed to help during a pandemic, Harnett is proud his Cincinnati-developed app allows people to show they care from anywhere.

“You can’t always get to the facility, but you can always send a photo,” said Harnett.

HiLois is based out of the innovation lab at the University of Cincinnati. It’s free to download on both the Google Play and App stores.


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