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‘Memory’ Smartphone Wins Pitch Contest Focusing on Social Isolation

AARP’s Miami event features 6 companies’ innovative digital solutions

spinner image robert felgar of raz mobility and christina rodriguez of mind and melody stand on stage with their winning checks at the connect and thrive pitch competition in miami in twenty twenty one
Robert Felgar, CEO of overall winner RAZ Mobility (left), and Christina Rodriguez of people’s choice winner Mind&Melody pose at the Connect & Thrive Pitch competition held recently in Miami.
A METRO PRODUCTION

 

Almost everyone communicates with friends, family and the world at large through voice and video calls, text messaging and social media — in other words, by using our smartphones.

But imagine what happens if these same folks start to suffer from dementia so that using the phone becomes increasingly complicated. They end up socializing less and feeling more isolated.

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RAZ Mobility is attempting to solve this problem with the RAZ Memory Cell Phone, a one-touch-dial picture phone designed for people with memory loss, Alzheimer’s and other forms of cognitive decline.

The Tysons Corner, Virginia–based startup beat out five other finalists for the $20,000 top cash prize at a Connect & Thrive Pitch competition held earlier this month in Miami. The event is a collaboration between AARP Innovation Labs and a team called Venture Miami that was assembled by Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez. The aim of the contest: come up with innovative digital solutions to combat loneliness and social isolation.

The RAZ Memory Phone has a single always-on screen with six named pictures on it associated with a contact that the user of the phone can call with a tap.  

spinner image three mobile phones showing screens of the raz mobility app
The RAZ Memory Cell Phone has six named pictures on its always-on screen to help those with memory loss or other forms of cognitive decline.
Courtesy Raz Mobility

 

Caregiver controls it remotely

A caregiver, typically an adult child or spouse, controls the phone through an online portal or app, uploading pictures, managing contacts, sending reminders and handling all the settings. The caregiver can disable volume rockers and even the power button, and the person using the phone doesn’t have to fret about operating system updates, settings, unwanted notifications or voicemails.

“No other cellphone in the world provides caregivers this much control from afar and makes it as easy as it does for a senior with dementia to stay connected,” RAZ Chief Executive Robert Felgar said during the Miami event, adding that RAZ plans to add video calling capabilities and health services in the future. The phone has a dedicated button for dialing 911.

Felgar says that as the disease progresses, a person with increasingly severe cognitive issues will no longer be able to recognize objects.

“There’s a period of time — and it varies by person — where they can’t use a complicated piece of technology, can’t get through menus. [And] if you put a bunch of apps in front of them, they’re totally confused,” he says. “But they can recognize their family members. So that’s really … when people buy the phone.”

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A Verizon-AT&T version of the phone costs $349. In 2020, RAZ sold an average of 150 devices a month, Felgar says. Now it’s selling nearly triple that amount.

The company also sells a RAZ MiniVision2 cellphone for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Mind&Melody wins People’s Choice award

While RAZ snagged the top prize, a second start-up, the nonprofit Mind&Melody, based in the Miami area, earned a $5,000 People’s Choice award based on attendees’ votes. Mind&Melody, founded by Cristina Rodriguez and Lauren Koff, uses music to help older adults regain pieces of themselves while instilling purpose and empathy in younger generations.

Programs are provided in long-term care facilities and for older adults aging in place. They can be in person and online, with the cost dependent on the frequency of sessions.

Patients living with dementia and Alzheimer’s sing songs, play instruments including maracas and tambourines, and participate in such musical activities as name that tune, rhythm exercises and movement. 

Other finalists

Previous 1st-quarter winners

2019StoryUP Healium and Waverly Labs. Now called Healium, the company uses virtual reality and augmented reality to help people manage stress and anxiety. Waverly Labs’ earpieces recognize and translate 20 languages spoken up to 8 feet from the listener.

2020Zibrio. Its stability scale measures balance and risk of falls so users can take steps to prevent long-term problems.

2021Naborforce. The company is creating networks of vetted and insured workers in communities across the country to help older adults with chores, errands and health care trips.

Carevocacy 

Founder: Stefano Selorio

Created for: Matching older adults with tech tutors. It is aimed at people who want to continually learn new things to reduce social isolation and promote independence.

Cost and availability: $40 an hour for one session or $85 a month for three sessions.

Chatables

Cofounders: Amy Stapleton, Wayne Richard

Created for: Engaging older adults in conversation and interactive skits to reduce feelings of loneliness, exercise the social and emotional parts of the brain, and potentially slow the onset of mental decline. The company’s interactive voice application, Storyteller Café, uses virtual talking characters to engage older adults in conversation and is available on any Amazon Alexa smart speaker in the United States. Folks ask Alexa to “open Storyteller Café.” 

Cost and availability: The voice-interactive experience for isolated older adults is free, though a subscription service is in the works.

Storybook app

Cofounders: Francisco Cornejo, Dani Vega

Created for: Helping grandparents, parents and youngsters spend high-quality time together. The company believes that every child deserves to have a personal, sacred bond with their parents to live a happy and healthy life. It combines relaxation techniques with bedtime stories and music, helping families connect, relax and sleep better.

Cost and availability: Free seven-day trial on the app, available only for iPhones and iPads, then $59.99 a year or $4.99 a month.

Vivo

Founder: Eric Levitan

Created for: Building strength and mobility via online small-group fitness classes that, unlike video or livestream classes, are live and interactive. Participants get individual feedback from a live trainer.

Cost and availability: $99 a month for one class a week, $159 a month for two classes a week, $199 a month for three classes a week. All include an initial assessment, follow-up assessments and nutritional analysis.

Edward C. Baig is a contributing writer who covers technology and other consumer topics. He previously worked for USA Today, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report and Fortune and is the author of Macs for Dummies and the coauthor of iPhone for Dummies and iPad for Dummies.

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