‘Window to the world’

Published 9:14 pm Friday, February 9, 2018

Seniors residing in the Hoy Nursing Care Center at Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia Beach will all have access to senior-friendly software on computer tablets thanks to a Suffolk couple’s philanthropy.

The “Birdsong Tablet” is a simple-to-use electronic aimed at helping seniors engage and improve brain health. The tablet, named in honor of Westminster-Canterbury Foundation board member Sue Birdsong and her husband, George, was developed from research Westminster-Canterbury did along with Eastern Virginia Medical School and Virginia Wesleyan University.

“You read a lot of about how engagement is the secret sauce for seniors,” said J. Benjamin Unkle Jr., chief executive officer of Westminster-Canterbury. “We saw this computer program at a conference, but people weren’t buying it. We needed to do a study to prove the quality.”

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The Birdsongs agreed to help fund the study needed to show the value in this type of technology, and they donated $228,000 to the project. The study, done over the course of 24 weeks in 2015, showed the results necessary to move forward with the project.

While the technology was sound and the study proved the benefits, the price was still daunting for most residents. Before partnering with TMM Software, residents would have had to pay $110 per month for the service.

The software company, a French company based in Lyon, France, has been a leader in the health sector for 10 years, said Arnault Thouret, TMM Software’s chief executive officer.

“There are tons of applications and games, and there is no shortage of therapeutic ways to help the patient,” Unkle said. “What they [TMM Software] brought was a simple interface.”

The tablet comes in three sizes — 21-, 18- or 10-inch screens. This allows for more visually impaired residents to enjoy the technology. The home screen to the tablet, which is placed on a stand, features six large navigation buttons to lead seniors to whatever they may want.

The tablet features games, interactive Google maps, a family application and access to the internet.

“It’s their window to the world,” said Westminster-Canterbury Special Projects Coordinator Aisha Azher. “It gives them access to what is in society besides these four walls.”

The family application allows seniors the chance to connect with people outside of the community. Their family members can download the app to their own devices and video chat with them.

This tablet gives the community the ability to engage and increase cognition, but the benefits also extend to the staff at Westminster-Canterbury. Applications on the tablet offer therapeutic sounds and videos, and the study showed these types of videos can reduce outbursts from patients.

“The tablets mean less drugs and lower stress levels,” said Helen Henrich, a resident of Westminster-Canterbury whose husband, George, has used the tablet. “It really makes everything better.”