HackFest winners build a virtual bridge between senior living communities and homebound elders

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Homebound elderly people might soon have easy virtual access to activities offered by senior living communities, thanks to the winners of the inaugural LeadingAge HackFest.

The event brought eight competing teams to Dallas, where LeadingAge's annual conference was held last week. The interdisciplinary teams had 24 hours to think up an idea and create a prototype application, website, interactive online experience or device.

“We created a small system where retirement communities can expose their calendar of activities online, and take some of those activities and make them available through a video conference,” explained Cristhian Parra, a member of the winning team. Parra, a 29-year-old computer science doctoral student at the University of Trento in Italy, spoke on camera with McKnight's in Dallas.

Through the system conceived by Parra and his teammates, people living at home would be able to access a list of ongoing activities. These could include book clubs, religious services or a variety of other events that might interest seniors, Parra said. With just a few clicks, seniors at home could view these activities through video conferencing technology, and even interact with residents at the senior care community.

The value of HackFest is in raising awareness about the technology-related opportunities and needs in senior living and senior services, and supporting those who are already doing work in these areas, said Daniel Hermann, senior managing director and head of investment banking at Ziegler. He sees HackFest expanding in the coming years.

“Who knows where it would go with the explosion of technology around senior services, particularly senior services in the home or senior services to keep people independent?” he said to McKnight's. Ziegler, an underwriter of financing for senior living providers, sponsored this year's event.

The win for Team EngAge was unexpected, Parra said. But the group was quick to plan next steps. They will make their code open source, so that other developers can work on it. Parra said they hope to pitch the idea for additional funding “in the near future.”

The team walked away with a $5,000 cash prize, donated by The Asbury Group (TAG)*. Two runners-up received $2,000 each, and a “People's Choice” winner took home $1,000.

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*Editor's Note: This article has been updated to clarify that The Asbury Group (TAG) donated the prize money, not The Asbury Communities as originally stated.