An AI-Voice-Synthesis-Driven Personalised Audio Companion And Its Potential To Counter Acute Loneliness For The Elderly is launching an Innovate UK funded project that investigates how the latest advances in AI-voice synthesis can be used for mental health applications.

Need And Motivation
Loneliness in the UK costs £6,000 in health costs per decade of an older person's life (Independent2017).
With an estimated 1.2M Brits suffering from "chronic" loneliness, the UK government has now a minister of loneliness and a "loneliness strategy".

Social isolation (lack of social contact) is a key contributor to loneliness for the elderly as \>1M older people go 1month+ without speaking to someone (AgeUK2019).

This project addresses two of the UK's Industrial Strategy's grand-challenges:
(1) "ageing society" where "the loneliness epidemic" is specifically highlighted.
(2) "Artificial Intelligence and Data" where the potential of AI for health-care applications is emphasised.

The government's loneliness strategy banks on 'social prescribing' where GPs refer patients experiencing loneliness to social activities (SocialPrescribing1). Research shows significant improvements in well-being and reduced GP visits for 60% of patients in the following 12 months (SocialPrescribing2).

The NHS also recommends technical solutions (eg.'Skype') to keep in touch with loved ones (NHS1). However, these approaches are severely limited in their accessibility when mobility, technical competence or simply the availability of a loved one is a problem.

Research has shown that technical solutions can:
(1) be an effective surrogate for human-led therapy
(2) be successfully deployed in geriatric care
(3) use (unidirectional) audio to emulate companionship, break social isolation, and alleviate loneliness

Meanwhile, research into 'Socially assistive robots' is translating into commercial products (eg.BritishGas Hive-Link and ElliQ(CNET2019) launched 2019) and personal assistants (eg.Siri, Alexa) are arriving in the mass market (competitor analysis in Q2Appendix).

However, the products currently available do not include an affordable yet effective self-help tool for acute loneliness and are not truly optimized for accessibility by the elderly.


Meet Our Project Board

GP & UCL lecturer & NHS Clinical Entrepreneur
Dr Patricia Schartau

Dr Schartau graduated from Oxford University (BA in Psychology), Cambridge University (PhD in Clinical Psychology) and King's College London (MBBS; Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery), and has completed her academic GP training at the Royal Free Hospital scheme in London.
She currently works as a salaried GP in central London, holds a clinical lectureship position in Primary Care at University College London, and is an NHS Clinical Entrepreneur as well as an advisor to start-ups. Her research interests are primarily in Digital Health/health innovation and Men's Health. She continues to be interested in Mental Health and is involved in medical education from undergraduate to postgraduate levels. Throughout her career, she has been awarded numerous prizes and awards; published peer-reviewed journal articles and enjoys public engagement activities. She regularly presents her work at national and international conferences and is on the editorial boards/reviewer of several Primary Care & Men's Health related journals.

Prof of Information and Organisation
Lancaster University
Prof. Niall Hayes

Niall Hayes is a Professor of Information and Organisation in the Department of Organisation, Work and Technology at Lancaster University. His research interests relate to the social and organisational implications arising from the introduction and use of information systems in organisations. His specific research domains are threefold: electronic government, digital health and information and communication technology in developing countries and for development.

Founder EEVA & Ex-MD
Dr. Ishan Wijewardana

Dr. Ishan Wijewardana is a medical doctor and founder of EVVA (Elderly Electronic Virtual Assistant). EEVA's vision is to make care giving a bit easier for society's true heroes, their carers, and reduce the emotional and physical stress that comes with it. The team behind EEVA are doing this through their free reminder and check-in service that carers can use to schedule personalised voice reminders to help the ones they care for stay on task and live independently.


Elderly Electronic Virtual Assistant

EEVA is a free reminder and check-in service delivered through your phone. Schedule voice messages to help the ones you look after keep track of their health and live independently.

EEVA was created for carers, to help remove the stress of important, but frequent tasks, giving them everyday peace of mind.

By using existing technology (phone calls through a landline or mobile phone) we avoid the need for expensive devices and mobile apps.

Our reminder and check-in service can support people with memory problems, from Dementia & Parkinson's to Anxiety.