For most of us, technology is a basic part of our everyday lives. Between apps, social networking, e-mail, texting, and any of the other hundred things that keeps our hands firmly attached to our tablets or phones, we are fairly tech-savvy. But most of us also have relatives that are a bit older who still need to call us and ask us how to set up their new e-mail account. For senior citizens, who grew up during a time where a phone only did two things, send and receive phone calls, the digital age can leave them feeling isolated and left behind as their children and grandchildren focus on Facebook, and the postal service becomes a thing of the past. One entrepreneur who saw these problems and decided to solve them was Jeff Pepper, founder and CEO of Touchtown.
In 1999, Jeff Pepper’s father, Edward Pepper became the inspiration behind Touchtown. Like many senior citizens, the elder Mr. Pepper had made the decision to move into a retirement community. While he enjoyed the activities and the sense of community he found there, he still felt isolated from the outside world, and his health began to decline. Concerned for his father, Jeff Pepper made the decision to devote his life to making sure that senior citizens could not only enjoy the lifestyle offered by these communities, but also remain connected to family and friends who may not live in the same area.
In 2001, Jeff Pepper gathered together 16 senior living providers to form the Senior Connect Partnership. Their mission: find out what the residents of their communities needed in order to improve quality of life. The first product Touchtown released after the SCP began their research was a senior-friendly email service. This e-mail software, released in 2002, was specifically designed for older adults, particularly those with poor vision, short-term memory issues, or arthritis. It allowed users to send voice-recorded emails.
By 2007, Touchtown had expanded beyond simple communications. The Touchtown Resident Web Portal was created, offering more online features such as forums, news, and community announcements, all in one simple, centralized location to make it easier for residents to access.
Touchtown also created an in-house TV channel specifically for senior living communities. The company also installed digital signage, allowing communities to send announcements, schedules, and menus to their residents.
A fixture at more than 400 living communities by 2008, Touchtown would next release a calendar tool that was easy to manage, pre-formatted to allow instant use without creating confusion and frustration.
But it would be one year later when the company truly set itself apart with the development of Touchtown Safety Solutions, a product utilizing Wi-Fi for assisting injured or at-risk seniors. The product features a wireless network connected to each resident’s apartment along with a wearable pendant that the resident can use whenever they need assistance. By simply pressing a button on the pendant, the resident can send an alert, location, and eight seconds of audio to responders.
Residents can communicate with staff on any matter, from medical emergencies to locking their keys in the car. The network itself is “self-healing,” meaning if one area fails, the system reroutes message traffic to ensure communications stay open.
Touchtown even received a Phase I grant from the Coordinating Office of Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response in order to research applications of their system for Homeland Security.
All this sounds excellent, particularly if you have elderly loved ones, but what about actual results?
In a recent study conducted by Case Western Reserve University associate professor of psychology T.J. McCallum, Ph.D., a group of 25 senior citizens were each given a tablet and 90 minutes of training for 15 weeks. The results of the study showed significant improvements in self-esteem, social engagement, and life satisfaction.
Residents of communities using Touchtown also have a more private and customized way of communicating with staff via the daily Check In App. The app is also two-way, which means staff can view which residents are late for check-in and which ones have gone to stay with family for holidays or special events.
Thus far, Touchtown has released more than 20 apps and the company’s products are found in approximately 1,200 senior living communities. Clermont Park, a Denver retirement community, joined the list last month, adding 167 residents to the 150,000 senior citizens already enjoying the benefits inspired by one entrepreneur’s wish to enrich his father’s quality of life.