By Nicki Hayes

03rd July 2020

Categorised in Good To Know

Peter comes from a family of care workers. His father, who died eighteen months ago, helped to establish Age Concern in Suffolk. His mother, who for over ten years had cared for his father through a series of illnesses at their home, including leukaemia, worked in social care all her life, qualifying as a social worker in her 50s. His sister is a senior social worker and best interest assessor with 25 years’ experience. And Peter himself, currently an adult learning tutor employed by the Isle of Wight council, whilst also volunteering at a local care home, has previously worked within memory related programmes for Age Concern.

So, when lockdown forced his mother to pull out of the purchase of a new home within a supported community, and then his sister, who, because she lived close by to their mother, led on caring responsibilities, contracted COVID-19, the family knew they needed to find a practical solution to help them support each other through self-isolation.

Myhomehelper is a visually simple tablet that family carers can manage remotely to monitor their loved ones when they cannot be with them…

“My sister told me about myhomehelper. It’s a visually simple tablet that family carers can manage remotely to monitor their loved ones when they cannot physically be with them. For example, I’ve set Mum’s up to include the day, the date, the time and the things that are happening today. The information is displayed simply and I’ve set it up to repeat often throughout the day,” advises Peter. 

“I also use it to do video calls with her and to share photos, both personal ones to remind her of the past, and current ones, perhaps taken on my bike ride around the island that day, to stimulate her and help her orient herself in the present.  

“It’s simple to set up – the only thing you have to do in situ is set up the Wi-Fi .It’s easy to use too, both for the carer and for the person being cared for,” advises Peter.

How did myhomehelper come about?

myhomehelper is an internet solution developed from personal experience to assist individuals living with memory problems and help those who care for them…

This is one of those reassuring and heart-warming origin stories of how something that began as a practical solution to a personal situation grew into a business.

In short, Kevin Marsch created it for his own use when his mum, Pat, was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2010. Seeing how effective it was in reducing her anxiety, he continued adding features to the system.

Kevin and Pat Marsch

Within a year, encouraged by positive feedback from carers, doctors and paramedics, Kevin quit his job and set up an enterprise so that he could make myhomehelper available to other carers too.

Since then, myhomehelper has won or been a finalist in several awards, including the 2018 Building Better Healthcare Best Use of Technology Award. Demand has grown organically, widening to include young people with learning disabilities, and latterly to families affected by lockdown, with as many orders for the device coming in over the last ten weeks as in the previous year.

“I created it in the first place to help my mum, but also to help me, as I was finding it increasingly difficult to do my job whilst caring for my mum’s needs. Coming up with this solution solved two problems for my family, and it’s heartening that it is now doing so for many more too,” advises Kevin.

What are the benefits of myhomehelper?

For Peter’s family, the benefits were clear:  

“As a family of social workers and social care workers, we’re all very aware of the challenges caused by aging and of how isolation can accelerate challenges. We’re also very aware of how dementia can be over-diagnosed and how interventions that support memory, especially through times of anxiety and isolation, can prolong independent living,” Peter reflects.  

“Anything that can extend people’s ability to live independently, so long as they want to, is a good thing. And myhomehelper is a very good thing. What I like about it is that it’s very simple. It’s also very secure and the technical support is excellent. It’s like Kevin has said, ‘Here’s a machine, it’s in your control, if it goes wrong, I’m here for you’. And he is.” 

“When we first set it up, it was so lovely to see Mum’s face. We had been talking to her on the phone daily but being able to actually see her helped me to feel less distanced and more reassured. Knowing Mum has it set up by her armchair and doesn’t need to do anything because I can activate it from my end, from programming reminders, to sharing reminiscences, to starting a video call, which myhomehelper automatically answers, it’s brought real peace of mind for me, my mother, and for my sister whilst she’s been unable to visit Mum.” 

Peter’s sister, Charlotte, adds: “I think many carers know the anxiety that exists about becoming unwell and not being able to carry out essential tasks. For my mum, I know that she only really lets her guard down and admits to her difficulties with people she loves. So, having a tool by which Peter can remain in real, multi media contact has been hugely reassuring.”

Having trained with dementia champion, Dr Gemma Jones, Peter has strong views on dementia care – and wider issues relating to caring for those beginning to face age related challenges such as memory loss. I’ll leave the final words to him:

Our brains are not all that we are. Our ‘personhood’ does not reside in a filing system: our personhood resides in our souls. Our humanity does not disappear or even fade with memory loss, it’s just that our needs grow greater. I feel that the creator of myhomehelper understands this and has designed a piece of healthcare technology that holds humanity at its heart. It’s a great way to care for someone you love when you can’t be with them and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

– Peter Mason