Carlow-Based HaloCare Uses Advanced Tech To Help Elderly Live Independently
Fear abounded last spring as COVID-19 tore through the population, necessitating the implementation of tight restrictions on movement and forcing much of the elderly population to self-isolate, keenly aware of the damage the virus was doing in nursing homes across the country.
After selling home surveillance firm NetWatch in 2018 and leaving the company altogether in December 2019, David Walsh saw an opportunity, co-founding HaloCare, a Carlow-based start-up that uses advanced technology to assist elderly people living independently.
‘I think we were thinking about this for years anyway in terms of using technology in the home to support elderly people and other dependent person to live a quality life, Walsh told Extra.ie.
‘We all know we go on a journey in terms of age, and there’s a window in that journey where technology can play a huge role in terms of quality of life that an elderly person, particularly living alone, can have.’
HaloCare’s technology, which uses Internet of Things devices and a platform armed with both proven and proprietary algorithms, represents a progression beyond familiar assistant technology such as pendants, bracelets and ankle tags, and it aims to keep clients connected with their ‘circle of care’ of family members and medical professionals.
‘Our technology is completely contactless, so if you can imagine a sitting room where an elderly person lives, a device sits on the wall over a 48-hour period and learns the natural movements in that room of that elderly person – their natural posture, how many steps they take, how often they sit on the couch, etc.,’ Walsh said.
It reports back outliers, so if there’s changes in the normal behaviour of a person, it reports back to us, we’d have nurses and care staff in a care home in Carlow, and then they follow pre-agreed care pathways to resolve the issue.
‘If there’s an extreme outlier, where they’re sitting on the couch and can’t get up, can’t press a button, they can shout out a recognised password. Our system is voice-activated and it opens up a communication path to our nurses and care staff.’
HaloCare’s IoT devices – no cameras are installed – range from smoke and carbon monoxide monitors and gas and flood detectors to sensors for kettles, fridges and temperature, and the firm also has its own software called Aura, which provides relevant information to nurses and care staff and automated reports to clients, with more advancements to come.
‘What’s really exciting is when we move to level two in terms of a platform/software development where we start building in well proven medical algorithms, with the behavioural information we’re getting ourselves we should be able to predict with some certainty if a negative event might happen in the next week or so,’ Walsh said.
‘If we notice is somebody’s movement is changing, like they’re getting slower, or their posture is changing, they’re stumbling more when they’re getting off the couch, we combine that data with medical data such as whether their temperature has increased or whether their blood oxygen levels are going up or down, whatever happens to be the case, we can predict if something’s going to happen.’
Walsh has a background in electronic engineering, artificial intelligence and machine learning, which he says was hugely important in building NetWatch and HaloCare with co-founder Niall Kelly – Dr Jonny Walker has also been vital to HaloCare’s launch.
What he believes sets HaloCare apart from other companies developing software to assist the elderly is the holistic approach the team takes to designing its systems, which the company itself install, monitors and maintains.
‘In terms of how our process happens, when someone enquires about HaloCare, we have an in-house occupational therapist who speaks to the client and they do a baseline health screening of the person, and then we look at the environment of the home. And we have our own engineers in house that design the solutions the shape and size of the house, etc.,’ Walsh said.
Already, the technology is having a wide-ranging impact on people’s lives, with Walsh mentioning a woman in Wexford who was alerted to having left the tap running when a sensor noticed water had hit the floor, and the grandchildren who loaded one client’s age-friendly Halo Pad tablet with rediscovered wedding photos.
HaloCare currently has 27 full-time employees – across nursing and care staff, software engineers, research and development, customer service and sales – and some 167 customers in Ireland, having aimed for 100 customers by the end of 2021, but it now expects to hit 300 customers by the end of the year.
‘We’re spending 2021 in Ireland, fine tuning the product and services, and then with the help of Enterprise Ireland, we will take it internationally,’ Walsh said of future plans.
‘And we’re already changing very rapidly, we’re already getting a lot of enquiries from the US and the UK, and we’ll certainly have boots on the ground in both those countries by early 2022.’
Ultimately, Walsh wants HaloCare to help fill the gaps in the home care, with 95% of home care services paid for by the HSE and limited to an average of two hours per day.
‘Where we see HaloCare fitting in is for the other 22 hours, so we can be there when the carers aren’t there. Because we have nurses and carers 24/7, we can respond in seconds when something happens,’ Walsh said.
‘All our technology is in the background doing its work, that’s what our customers love. They can live a normal life, they don’t have to do anything, but what we do for each of our clients, we contact every single one of them every day.
‘We can call them, it might just be a social call, five minutes long, ask them how they’re getting on just to keep them socially connected, and that interaction in parallel with the technology in the background is what the solution is about.’