Video calling tool ‘Dossy’ builds connections for older people

An innovative digital tool called Dossy is set to help connect isolated older people with their family and friends, following a university-industry collaboration.

Dr Ryan Kelly, a leading researcher in the Human-Computer Interaction research group at the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology (FEIT) at the University of Melbourne, took the lead in the collaboration between FEIT, Dossy and Uniting AgeWell in mid-2022, after Kristen Graham, the founder of Dossy, approached FEIT for a research partnership.

Dossy is a purpose-built video calling tool that has been designed to easily connect isolated older people with family members, friends and community volunteers. Dossy founder Graham was inspired to develop the tool after her successful experience using technology to support her isolated grandmother during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Dossy uses a streamlined video calling process with a simplified user interface that is easy to use for older people who may have no prior experience using digital technology. It only requires a single tap of a button on the Dossy home screen to make a video call to a family member or friend.

Dossy has several features that can empower older people to make calls independently. For example, a status function shows when contacts are available to receive calls. This helps older people to feel confident about making calls without feeling as though they are disturbing their family members.

The two worked together to collect feedback from six older people who were participating in a pilot deployment of Dossy. This pilot was conducted in collaboration with Uniting AgeWell, an aged care provider of residential and home care services to older people in Victoria and Tasmania.

Dr Kelly and Associate Professor Jenny Waycott along with two PhD students, Wei Zhao and Yushan Xing, worked closely with Dossy and Uniting AgeWell to schedule visits to the homes of older people in Melbourne to collect feedback and understand their experience with the technology. Wei and Yushan were actively involved in analysing the data from the pilot study and creating a report for the project partners.

“We’ve been able to see how having access to video calling through Dossy has improved the lives of the older people in the pilot study,” Dr Kelly says.

Leonard*, a participant in the pilot study, experienced feelings of loneliness prior to encountering Dossy but now finds himself happier and more inclined to engage in social interactions, thanks to the video calling tool.

“I’ve opened up a lot since I’ve got Dossy,” he says. “It gives me a lot of company because my daughter rings me up every night. I’m so pleased because with Dossy I can see that they’re all happy and that’s the main thing.”

The successful collaboration resulted in a $200,000 grant from Aged Care Research and Industry Innovation Australia. This grant is being used to develop and test a new feature of Dossy called ‘Community Connect’. The feature will enable older people to video call volunteers around Australia and aims to address social isolation and loneliness in people who may not have an existing family network.

The team is collaborating with another organisation, Ageing with Grace, who will recruit and train volunteers for the project.

Older adults may experience social isolation and loneliness for a variety of reasons. Their social networks may have become smaller due to life changes like retirement or bereavement, while some older individuals, typically owing to mobility loss, are unable to leave their homes as much as they once did. And with global mobility, many people are physically separated from their friends and family by geographic distance.

The Dossy app is free to download from the iOS App Store.

*Leonard is not the participant's real name. A pseudonym has been used for privacy reasons.

First published on 29 June 2023.

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