Grandkids-on-demand

by Rina Raphael

Senior citizens were already battling an epidemic of loneliness, but COVID-19 really exacerbated it. They are now further isolated, depending on technology and a plethora of services for social interactions, medical assistance, and groceries.

As I report for the New York Times today, grandkids-on-demand could help solve the issue.

While Silicon Valley released a host of apps and technology—even robots⁠—to serve as elderly babysitters, digital health startups like Mon Ami and Papa invest in what’s irreplaceable: human connection. These apps facilitate senior companion care services, everything from friendly Zoom calls to prescription pick-ups, even virtual movement classes. They now supply nursing homes and members with tablets and technology tutorials.

Addressing elderly needs is an issue that has seen an uptick in interest, not just in America but worldwide. In Israel, grassroots programs like Adopt-A-Safta gather volunteers to help with calls to the elderly, and even celebrities like comedian Sarah Silverman are asking how to help serve the elderly at this moment.

Mon Ami, which initially launched a paid companion model, took an extra step this month: It set up a volunteer phone bank that drew 300 volunteers within days. It’s an appealing gig for college students with flexible schedules or who now find themselves with not much to do, though the benefits go both ways. The startup routinely hears from companions that the work does as much for their emotional wellbeing as for seniors. That’s because millennials, much like seniors, crave social interaction. A recent survey by Cigna found that millennials are the loneliest generation, with 30% always or often feeling lonely.

Shanice Watts, 28, a second-year physician’s assistant student at Stanford University, heard about Mon Ami from fellow students who spoke of how rewarding the experience was. Last summer, she began visiting Richard Dewey, 91, a retired physician with early dementia. Twice a week they would go on walks, play Bridge, or listen to classical music. But now they talk on a landline, mostly to discuss their shared love of medicine. (“He loves hearing about the diseases that I’m learning about,” says Watts.) 

For Watts, chatting with Dewey calls to mind her own grandparents. When she misses them, she can find that same kind of comfort from her newfound buddy. “Doing this reminds me of them,” remarks Watts.

In many ways, these startups are solving a loneliness crisis that hits the two most vulnerable populations: seniors and millennials, who are now remarkably forging new ties. Read the full story in the New York Times.

Related: Can robots ever be better caretakers than humans?

In other news: The Goods Mart, also known as the “healthy 7-11,” is selling surprise snack boxes! I’m obsessed with their delightfully unique treats: seaweed chips, organic Red Vines, cinnamon cola, ginger gum, etc. I’ve been hoarding a few for myself, but honestly, they make a fab gift for anyone who could use a (healthy) pick-me-up. Order here.

-- Rina Raphael

News & Trends:

Quarantine’s new ‘it’ influencers? Meditation teachers: With skyrocketing anxiety driving consumers toward meditation, tons of brands are hosting breathwork and mindfulness content. (Glossy)

Consumers reportedly losing interest in CBD: Machine intelligence platform Spate found that searches for CBD decreased 26.2%, demonstrating many don’t feel it’s a supplement they can count on. (Spate)

The “Spotify of fitness” raises new round, now valued at $200 million: I profiled Aaptiv a little while back, noting it was headed for industry domination. This week, the company announced it raised over $60 million from investors like Amazon and Disney. (TechCrunch / previously on FC)

Fashion gets a pandemic makeover: A company that makes scarves that double as air filters is now making a hoodie with a built-in mask. (FastCo)

WW (formerly Weight Watchers) rolls out Zoom workshops: The brand is going virtual to help members stick to better habits--like limit stress overeating while in isolation. (USA TODAY)

Polar announces new fitness watch: The Grit X is made for the outdoors--it tracks specific movement like inclines on hikes while also nudging users to drink up or rest. But, it’ll set you back $429.95. (The Verge)

Is this the future of air travel? Glassafe is “a kit-level solution that can be installed on existing seats to make close proximity safer among passengers sharing the same seat.” (The Drive

Is sexual wellness getting a lockdown boost? Companies like Maude are seeing increased sales for both single individuals and those lucky couples that aren’t fighting over who does the dishes. (Glossy)

Jack Dorsey’s COVID-19 routine is, of course, bananas: The Twitter CEO is forgoing sourdough for daily ice baths, 220-degree barrel saunas, and a breakfast “salt shake.” (DailyMail)

Finally, a fitness tracker for your sourdough: Sourd.io monitors temperature, humidity, and the rise of your culture. (The Verge) RELATED: The psychology behind why everyone’s baking these days

New natural deodorant brand has a secret ingredient: Natural deodorant has been all the rage for a while, but newly launched Ultrella hopes to win over consumers with its sleek pouch packaging and unique ingredients, including IBR-snowflake, an extract used as a Botox alternative—and shown to reduce sweating by 36%. (Beauty Independent)

Zappos launches Customer Service For Anything: As one of many companies creatively pivoting to new initiatives, Zappos started a free 24/7 hotline to help consumers with everything, including helping doctors find medical supplies. (Forbes)

Iconic recipes--revealed! Another feel-good initiative gaining traction? Big brands revealing the secrets behind beloved dishes. Disneyland explained how to recreate their iconic treats, while Ikea divulged how to make their iconic meatballs and Doubletree shared its chocolate chip cookie recipe. (CNN / TODAY / WashPo)

Panic buying comes for the beauty industry: For some, a favorite moisturizer or acne treatment is just as important as toilet paper. (Glossy)

An AI app that can reportedly detect COVID-19 from the sound of one’s cough: Called "Coughvid," the app was inspired by doctors who said coronavirus patients have a distinctive cough. (BI)

InstaCart partners with Costco for RX delivery: The delivery service is now available in nearly 200 Costco locations in several states, with plans to go national in the coming months.  (TechCrunch)

Deeper dives:

An analysis of virtual workout trends during shelter-at-home
The brilliant researchers at Mindbody have already begun studying streaming workouts, which are, of course, more popular and necessary than ever. Prior to the coronavirus lockdown, only about 1% of bookings on Mindbody were virtual. It’s since seen a whopping 230% increase. Not to mention, a larger percentage of users are actually exercising more during this isolation period: Last year, only 5% of users worked out daily; now, we're seeing 23% work out this frequently. (MindBody)

Miracle ‘cures’ haven’t changed in 700 years
During the 14th-century, folks strategically placed cut-up onions around their home--the logic being that the strong scent might “purify the air” and ward off the plague. The rich, meanwhile, relied on (no joke) eating emeralds, which did nothing more than rip their gastrointestinal tracts and cause internal bleeding. Jennifer Wright recounts a history of failed cure attempts, which still exist today. Except in place of vegetables or prized jewels, it’s fish tank cleaner or attacking 5G mobile phone towers. (NYPost)

Could the pandemic wind up fixing what’s broken about work in America?
The U.S. is distinctive among rich countries in its lack of worker protections like nationwide paid sick leave, paid family leave and universal health insurance, and in its minimal labor union membership, writes Claire Cain Miller. “For both high and low earners, many employers expect workers to be on call around the clock. Companies are typically beholden to shareholders first, above employees, customers and communities. But the coronavirus pandemic has shown the flaw in that logic: Worker well-being is the foundation for everything else.” (NYT)

Quote of the week:

“Several weeks into coronavirus-induced isolation, my mood is now entirely dependent upon one thing, and one thing only: sunshine. I now rely upon good weather as the central determining fact of how my day will proceed, as though I were a 17th-century sailor.”  -- Weather Now Wholly Governs My Mental State

Tweek of the week: