It seems perfectly natural to make video phone calls with family and friends during this quarantine period. But what if you can no longer manage to learn how new apps and devices work? Elderly and people suffering from dementia are lonely and can sometimes barely comprehend their situation. Femly has found a solution for this: a plug-and-play TV. The TV is dropped off at the front door. The only thing the recipient has to do is to plug it in. Family members can use an app to contact their mother, father, grandmother, or grandfather. Messages, photos, and video calls automatically appear on the screen.
In recent years Françoise de Goeijen has been active as a business angel, mainly in the agricultural sector. Three years ago she met the young man responsible for Femly. It took a lot of effort to get the idea off the ground. A year earlier, De Goeijen had lost her husband to Alzheimer’s disease, which is why she knew from her own experience that a product like this could make a real difference for these kinds of patients. She decided to fully focus on Femly together with August Mertens, who joined a year later.
What makes Femly different from other technical solutions for long-distance contact?
De Goeijen: “There are loads of solutions, but you need a bit of technical knowledge and insight for all of them. That’s tricky for people with dementia. That’s why we developed a technology where the recipient of messages and calls doesn’t have to do anything in order to receive them. Family members can use the app to share a variety of information with their parents or grandparents. Also, informal carers and even the family doctor can access the Femly for remote healthcare, which is especially useful in times of corona. For example, the GP can simply call up for a consultation if the patient is unable to come to the practice.”
“Via Femly, vulnerable elderly people can get video calls. The TV first produces an audio signal a few times and then family members’ faces or caregivers appear on the screen. Apart from that, the TV can show messages and photos too. It is also possible to create daily alerts or calendar dates, for example for taking medication or eating a sandwich. Senior citizens can chat during a video call, but they are not able to send back messages and suchlike via the TV. Family members can communicate with each other via the app, e.g., who is going to drop off some groceries? Or who has mown the lawn?”
How did Femly come about?
“The original idea was to build the Femly software into senior citizens’ existing TVs. The software was ready, but it turned out to be a bit of technical challenge to integrate it into TVs. Then the coronavirus broke out. As a result of that, we could no longer go to people and install the software. At the same time, the demand for Femlys rose dramatically. That’s why we have now decided to deliver a complete TV to the front door. We no longer need to go inside to install the software and we can distribute the TVs faster this way. This seems to work just as well for our clients.”
What impact is the corona crisis having on you as a company?
“The outbreak of the virus has thrown our company into overdrive. During the first week of the lockdown, we programmed and distributed 25 TVs. I personally brought them to all our clients. That certainly stirred things up a bit. Although it was also wonderful to see that it works so well and that we can really help people in these difficult times. I hear plenty of heartbreaking stories from elderly people who are sick and haven’t seen their loved ones for months.”
“We were able to take out loans from three different funding sources in order to buy and distribute even more TVs. In addition, we entered into a partnership with a healthcare institution in the Achterhoek region of The Netherlands. A relatively large number of elderly people live there and there are high levels of loneliness. The healthcare institution is purchasing 25 Femlys for their 65,000 members with the help of a subsidy from the province. That’s really cool to see. We’re now seeing if we can sell Femlys to more care homes so residents can make use of them in the common rooms.”
What is your ultimate goal?
“We had set a goal this year to sell 100 Femlys. Owing to the corona crisis, we’re selling a lot more TVs and we’re already reaching our target for 2021. The sales figures are of course important for the company, but above all, we want to realize our dream. We want to make sure that every lonely elderly person has family close by.”
“When my husband was sick, I had a lot of help from friends and family. He was a huge PSV football fan. Every match, his friends, who all live in various places around the country, came to pick him up in Limburg to go to the football match in Eindhoven. Everybody wanted to go with him. That was really heartwarming to see. That’s when I realized that having friends and family around you is incredibly important. Now we’re aiming to make sure that friends and family are always close by for other vulnerable elderly people.”