Making Connections, Addressing Needs: hackathon to make life better for older citizens in rural & isolated areas

Gillian Colan-o'leary
6 min readJan 29, 2020


The Bamford Centre at Ulster University played host to a hackathon last Friday in Coleraine.

It was part of the Place-EE projecta “transnational partnership of public health agencies, local authorities, academics and ICT experts dedicated to improving the quality of life for older people” — which the Bamford Centre leads.

Rachel Burn (Northern Periphery & Arctic Programme), Prof Karise Hutchinson (Provost, Ulster University), Prof Gerard Leavey (Bamford Centre).
Dr Victoria Simms (Ulster University), Prof Gerard Leavey (Bamford Centre), Professor Roger O’Sullivan (Institute for Public Health Ireland) and Dr Michael Rosato (Bamford Centre)

The challenge (and challenges)

The challenge was to develop proof of concepts (PoCs) for digital solutions/services designed to enable older citizens — especially for those in rural areas — to stay engaged and connected (to health and social needs and use of public services, for instance).

Some background to the hackathon from the Place-EE project’s research

The teams hacked for 12 hours and came up with some super ideas for apps and services to help older people stay engaged and connected. Thanks to our judging panel (Åke Holmlund and John Waterworth, from Umeå University, Karise Hutchinson from Ulster University, Rachel Burn from the Northern Periphery & Arctic Programme, Columb Duffy from Allstate) who had the difficult task of choosing a winner.

SafeShare: 1st place

The app is designed to give independence to older people — they can take part in activities and ensure their safety is a priority.

Users can add desired contacts, input activities and set time limits.

They can go about their activity with ease, if something were to happen, e.g. fall over and they do not cancel the notifications within the designated time frame an automated message will be sent to their selected contact.

The winning team with Soo Hun from the Public Health Agency (@soo_cchsc)

Rejuvenate Connect: 2nd place

The mobile phone app identifies emotions in real-time to provide a personalised recommendation system that can assist the elderly within their comfort zones.

The lives of elderly people pose a great deal of challenges. Ranging from their day-to-day activities such as mobility, medications and self-care to their physiological well-being such as social connection and sense of purpose, the constant need to adapt to a fast-moving world with technology driving the forefront pose a challenge to the elderly.

Rejuvenate Connect is a prototype that works on identifying the human emotions in real-time to provide a personalised recommendation system that can assist the elderly within their comfort zones.

In addition, this prototype identifies chronic mental health conditions at their initial stage prior to diagnosis by providing a personalised alert system to their General Practitioner and loved ones. Thus, prevents further development of their health conditions and aids in advanced clinical decision making.

The team with Soo Hun from the Public Health Agency

Age Engage (Highly commended)

An app to combat loneliness in seniors, help people enjoy retirement and encourage them to lead social and active lives.

The app centred around event finding for seniors. “In our personal experiences we have see the effects of loneliness in this age category. Loneliness can be more dangerous than smoking 15 cigarettes a day!”

Daniel and Noah have already had success with the Age Engage app (they won the Digital DNA Futures competition June ‘19), and it was great to have them along to develop the idea further.

Daniel (far right) talking through his Age Engage app to Anthony (Allstate) and Julian Cullinan, Skelleftea kommun, Sweden — one of the PLACE-EE partners.
No pics from the day of Daniel and Noah — here’s a recent one from their trip to San Francisco

Daniel and Noah are students at Dalriada School in Ballymoney.

Seniiors (Highly commended)

A personalised medication app.

The team from Letterkenny developing Seniiors

This was a simple mobile application for elderly people. It primarily manages user’s medication data which tracks their prescription and notifies them when to take their medicine.

It also has an inbuilt feature of booking an appointment with the doctor or health professional.

Team Philo (Highly commended)

An app to connect people in disparate communities.

Team Philo in action

Isolation is a problem that particularly affects the target group of elderly people in rural areas, but is by no means confined to this group.

“To this end, our product is a lightweight app that allows photo sharing between friends, and making new connections based on common interests. Common interests could be specified manually, or determined by our AI backend scanning your photos to match you with potential friends with similar interests. The use of common interests would allow conversations to start organically, removing the pressure that comes with sparking up a conversation with a stranger.”

Keeping yourself safe online training for older people

We invited the University of the 3rd Age to take part in online safety workshops, delivered by the wonderful Esther and Phil from the Google Digital Garage. The sessions were a great success!

Also: a chance for Place-EE partners and stakeholders to catch up

Finally — A big “thank you” to our sponsors!

Soo Hun (Public Health Agency), Prof Gerard Leavey (Bamford Centre, Ulster University), Brian Odgers (Allstate), Barry O’Neill (MCS Group), Anthony Lynch and Julie Cassidy (Allstate)

Julie, Brian and Anthony from Allstate provided expert advice and mentorship throughout the day.

Robyn and Barry from MCS Group were on hand to give career and CV advice. And Quality Street.

Thanks to Allstate & MCS Group for the generous prize fund!