Could New Tech Help Barcelona’s Elderly Create Stronger Networks?
6 Nov 2014
Source: 100 Resilient Cities
By: Teresa García Alcaraz
As life expectancies grow ever greater, cities around the world are being forced to face up to the challenges posed by social isolation and deteriorating health among their ageing populations.
More than 20% of Barcelona residents are 65 or over, according to city data, and that is expected to rise to 25% by 2040. To combat the problem the Catalan capital has come up with VinclesBCN – an app which helps at-risk elderly people, and their families and helpers, create collaborative care networks. The project won the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge 2014 last month, scooping the top prize of €5m in funding.
“People in cities tend to be anonymous, while in a rural context they look after each other and relationships are closer,” says Josep Maria Miró, who is head of the social innovation department at Barcelona city council and has been part of the multidisciplinary team working on VinclesBCN. “This also worries other European cities because most of their population is living in urban areas where solitude and isolation are intensified.”
Fernando García Bernal, a mobile developer and project contributor, explains that the app generates a trusted network of people who can organise activities for elderly users: “It can be installed on a tablet or mobile – allowing the elderly to make calls, send and receive multimedia content, share a calendar and transfer money easily and safely.” The hope is that, as well as helping the older people meet their basic needs, VinclesBCN will also encourage them to try new things, adds Josep Maria.
The city council – which is currently trialling the initiative with 20 elderly people in Barcelona – will provide training and help to users, who will be able to invite up to 10 close family members, friends, neighbours, social or healthcare employees to be part of their private circle. These network members can then respond to the user’s alerts, reminders and needs, interact with other people in the circle and organise activities.
The initiative hopes to reduce the isolation felt by some older people and provide careworkers with a network of support. Fernando believes that the app will give both groups improved connections to wider society and a better quality of life.
The app is expected to reach 20,000 over-65s, and integrate about 100,000 people in total through their trusted networks. “Barcelona can do it,” says Josep Maria. “People are receptive and my intuition is positive … Our hypothesis is that VinclesBCN overcomes urban isolation. We believe this but we need to find data that corroborates it. If the tests give us good results, the project might be replicated in other European cities.”