Loneliness can arise very quickly as a result of changes in life circumstances, be it death, serious illness or separation. The current Covid 19 pandemic and the associated lockdown have made this more visible than usual. Since loneliness can bring about serious health problems and depression, it is important to take countermeasures in good time. The staff of the City of Lucerne's "Alter" contact point and the Vicino network offer their help in this regard. In view of the current situation, they have joined forces with us to push ahead with a project designed to support the staff of the two centres: "Anne" is a tablet with a speech function specially programmed for older people. It simplifies contact with friends, relatives and carers and helps to structure everyday life. It is being used for the first time in Lucerne as a pilot project in Switzerland.
A talking tablet
The tablet is very easy and intuitive to use. "'Anne' offers specifically and exclusively the functions that support lonely people in their everyday life. So even people without any previous computer knowledge can easily learn to use it", says Clemens Nieke, project manager of the iHomeLab at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. "Anne" has a face and a voice. "We noticed that the face allows easier access than a purely voice-based system," says Nieke. For security reasons, all data is stored purely locally. Voice recognition also runs completely locally on the tablet, so there is no need to access the cloud services of the large IT groups.
Help in structuring the day
"Anne" does not have actual conversations like "Alexa" or "Siri". She only talks about the obvious: If an appointment or the taking of medication is imminent, she intervenes and reminds them. Since lonely people often have problems structuring their everyday life and therefore forget appointments, this function can be a great help. The most important thing, however, is that telephone numbers can be programmed with a photo and can be called with a touch of a finger or by voice command - the developers devoted a great deal of attention to ease of use. "The 'Anne' project fits in well with the city's strategy of becoming a Smart City. The first thing you think of when you think of the digital transformation is younger generations - so I think it's particularly great that we can also do pioneering work for and with older people," says Paolo Hendry, Head of the Department of Old Age and Health, explaining the City of Lucerne's commitment.
Not a stand-alone solution
"A computer-assisted assistance system like 'Anne' is not a miracle cure for loneliness, but it can help older people to communicate with their environment," says Wilma Wessel from the Vicino Neustadt site. When it became apparent that the distance regulations of the lockdown would remain in place for a longer period of time, the Dutch project partner virtask brought a simplified form of 'Anne' onto the market at short notice. 30 pieces will now be made available free of charge in the city of Lucerne for half a year. The team of the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts is preparing the devices. Employees of the Vicino network and the contact point Alter of the city of Lucerne will contact lonely people on request, provide clarification and offer advice. Where appropriate, they program "Anne" accordingly. In this way, the employees of Vicino and the Contact Point Alter of the City of Lucerne are given the opportunity to get and stay in contact with people and to support them in expanding their network step by step.
Loneliness has health consequences
Loneliness affects women and men to the same extent, with men suffering more painfully. Many studies have shown that an extensive and active social network is the best way to avoid loneliness. However, if older people are to stay at home, as is the case in the current pandemic situation, this can have a negative effect on their social network. The reduction of contacts can also be accompanied by a decrease in mobility. Finally, the ability to communicate is also lost. A downward spiral is set in motion. Support from "Anne" can help to avoid all this, enable people at risk to maintain their social network and thus ensure a high quality of life in old age.