TOPIC (The Online Platform for Informal Carers) is a European Research Project under the Ambient Assisted Living Joint Programme conducted by a consortium of 9 partners from both academia and industry in Austria, France and Germany.
TOPIC aims to support informal carers in their daily needs with a CarePortfolio. It is an integrated set of shared spaces and services to support the physical and mental care ability of informal carers by enabling learning and orientation about care, by offering a platform for cooperation with formal carers, by improving, integrating, and making (mobile) multimodal communication easier and accessible for informal carers to connect with other informal carers, friends, or family members. We claim that we can help informal carers to alleviate stress and increase independency and efficiency of daily informal care giving tasks. We challenge this mainly by the provision of social support, described in three dimensions: informational, instrumental (or tangible), and emotional. On these dimensions we build our idea. Directly or indirectly, lending social support to a person implies the recognition of its value. There is a huge trade-off between informal carers’ needs of social support and today’s potentials provided by new ICTs. We will especially tackle two challenges: (1) the lack of an integrated social support platform, which serves all relevant aspects of carers’ social support needs in form of adequate integration of products and services required. (2) The lack of accessible ICT applications for elderly that might automate many tasks of general care giving.
In TOPIC, we aim at providing a solution by diminishing family carers’ burden, by then decreasing all the related problems, and offer them a better quality of life and independence. It will then reduce all the related costs of these “hidden patients”. The solution we offer to develop, the CarePortfolio, will provide multimodal social support to informal carers by means of a set of accessible online services, which would be available at all times via a portal, available on the Internet, via tablets, and/or smart phones. This set of services will cover the three dimensions of social support: informational, emotional, and tangible. Informational support means the flow of information, advice, or opinions that allow an individual to assess and understand the problem she/he is facing. Emotional support refers to sympathy, empathy, friendship, or love expressed through the support. This dimension is generally recognised as essential to social support. Tangible support means providing support in terms of goods (e.g., donated clothing or equipment) or services (for example, providing assistance in completing the paperwork). Providing user-friendly and accessible portal to support elderly carers emotionally and socially will alleviate their stress and increase their independency and the efficiency of their daily care giving tasks. In order to achieve our goal, our consortium combines partners being experts in all the needed domains: design for the elderly, online social support for family carers, mobile applications development, integrating online shops to provide self serving facilities in the Internet, information systems infrastructure, development of embedded applications at home, and of course three end-user organisations, strongly involved in family carers’ support. In addition, we have experts who focus on socio-technical measures, which communicate the project results in novel ways so that they reach the targeted end-users appropriately. Our consortium will first define technical infrastructure, where as user requirements will be gathered with help of user organisations and seniors. Prototypes will be developed by consortium partners and empirical tests will be done with seniors. Through iterations in prototyping CarePortfolio including all necessary web services and interfaces for user interaction in all scales (computer/tablet-based, mobile) will be integrated to an open customisable system of services, which can be easily composed to other useful products for care giving and self-caring. This way, TOPIC contributes to the research and industrial production of systems for elderly population and health care settings in Europe. How these systems will be deployed in the market will be defined via the definition of rental services by the business partners.