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Tech tool enables remote activity participation

October 27, 2013
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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An app that would enable seniors to participate in senior living community events remotely won the inaugural HackFest at this year's LeadingAge annual meeting. Projects were judged on originality, usability, feasibility and design relevance, as well as which one was furthest along by the end of the event. The victorious group of five college students who designed the tool shared a $5,000 prize.
LeadingAge hosted the student event, with the theme "Engage with Age," to encourage the development of technology-driven tools to improve the lives of older adults and their families. Contest rules specified that tools could be apps, websites, interactive online experiences or devices.
The first-place Global EngAge team created the app to enable seniors unable to attend events in person because of mobility and other issues via their computers, tablets or smartphones. "The question was, 'How do we engage people who are outside the retirement community?' " says Chul Kwon, a member of the winning team and a senior economics major at the University of Maryland, College Park. The app, he adds, could be used by those on the waiting list for a particular community or those wishing to experience the community before making a decision to join.
In theory, senior living communities would access the app to post information about upcoming events. Seniors would indicate their activity preferences, then would be notified whenever a relevant event was scheduled. They could sign up for an activity, be notified when it was starting, and "join" the event through video conferencing via Google Hangouts. All those attending an event, either remotely or live, would be able to see and interact with one another.
"We tried to make [the process] as simple as possible," Kwon says, noting that an adviser to the group "said that technology is great, but if you don't know how to use it, it's pretty much worthless." Users log in with a user ID and password, indicate how they would like to access the event and then access it. "You're connected with others in three clicks," Kwon says.
Others on the winning team, Kwon says, included Cristhian Parra, who is working on a PhD in computer science at the University of Trento in Italy; Ching Yih Leong, an MBA candidate at Western New England University in Massachusetts; Dustin Bump, who is working toward a master's degree in healthcare management at George Washington University; and David Adamo Jr., who is working toward a computer science PhD at the University of North Texas. LeadingAge put the teams together in advance, he adds, and teams could discuss general ideas of what issues their projects might address, saving specifics for the HackFest. Each team had assistance from "elders," Kwon says, and the Global Engage team had assistance from Kate Carmichael and Douglas Wuenschel.
Kwon says he learned about the Hackfest at his college and his participation "gave me a more in-depth look into something I would not gained knowledge about before. ...I would like to stay involved and see what opportunities are available to address problems via technology."
The student also praised LeadingAge. "I know this was the first one for LeadingAge. I've been to other hack-a-thons, and this was one of the most organized," he says, noting that this hacking event was the first one in which he was part of a team.
Specialty investment bank and broker-dealer Ziegler co-sponsored Hackfest, which was conceived by Lili Dwight, chief information officer of adaptive technology company It's Never 2 Late, and Chip Burns, LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST) commissioner. The event was coordinated by LeadingAge CAST, the University of North Texas, continuing care retirement community management organization The Asbury Group and It's Never 2 Late. The Asbury Group donated the cash prizes for first place, two runners up ($2,000 each) and the People's Choice Award ($1,000).
Click on the image at the top left of the page to see HackFest photos.
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