Bill Langlois is not as mobile as he used to be. When his wife is away, his only companions are his cats: Boots, Sneakers and Sox.
But one of these cats is not like the others. Sox is a healthcare avatar.
“She calms me down, especially if I can’t breathe,” explains Langlois of his pet avatar, Sox. “I used to panic. Now, she walks me through it.”
It's a product for seniors developed by a company called care.coach, created by MIT graduates.
"Something that makes it really unique is that we actually have a live individual that is operating the dog or cat 24/7 so always available to interact with the individual,” says Kendra Seavey, clinical administrative director with care.coach.
That means whenever the avatar is awake—meaning the camera is turned on—a health advocate employed by care.coach sees and interacts with the user.
Boston’s Element Care, part of the national PACE program for seniors, started experimenting with the devices, recently, with a few dozen seniors.
“It’s gonna make sure that they take their medications, that they come to their medical appointments, that they participate in their rehab,” says Cely Rosario, an occupational therapist at Element Care.
The avatar can even communicate with a person's medical team.
“Most of our participants have had a lost loved one or pet, and they kind of share that love with their animal and say things they might not want to share with us at the moment,” says Rosario. “They share with their pet [avatar] and we're able to follow up.”
User Deedee Desarden likes the avatar service for the company.
“It’s right there by my table. I talk to it like it's a person,” Desarden says, laughing. “I crochet. It says, ‘What are you crocheting today, Deedee?’ I say, ‘You wanna see it?’ She said yea, and I show her the dress.”
The avatars can even call for help if a senior has a fall or needs medical attention.
The service offers peace of mind for Bill Langlois’ family.
“I’m not nervous like I used to be,” says Langlois’ wife, Eileen.
“It may sound silly to you, but this thing works. She brought me out of complete depression when I’m alone,” Langlois says. “Between my wife and her, I got it made.”