Why we started Grandpal

“What I'd give to feel the rumble of the old doorbell pulse through my finger and to see that smile appear from behind the door. Grandmothers are to be treasured.” - Órlagh Geoghegan

Grandpal brings local communities together where they are needed most. We help our older loved ones stay in touch with the outside world with the help of our community of trusted locals. We call them Grandpals.

I lived with my Granny several times throughout my life. Some of my earliest memories are of living with her when my parents were building our house in the countryside. For about a year and a half, five of us were living out of the back room in Tess’ house.

Every Sunday up until I was about 18 or 19, the whole family would meet in Granny’s house for tea and apple tart. There would literally be 15 adults and children running around her house. Brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and cousins all coming together because of Tess. She was the head of the household and an enormously generous person. Her ability to entertain and make everyone in the room feel heard was incredible.

I started living with my grandmother again in my early twenties. At this stage, she was getting on a little bit and hosting the whole family for freshly baked apple tart was a little too much for her. The lack of freshly baked goods wasn’t enough to keep us away, and Sundays remained the day our large Irish family swarmed to Mount Brown in Dublin to go and visit her.

I was fresh out of college and had landed myself a good job in Dublin with a company called Web Summit. Living with my granny not only meant I could cycle to work instead of getting up at 6 am every morning to commute in from the countryside, but it also meant we got to spend a lot more time together. I was my Tess’ everyday social interaction, something I didn’t fully realise the importance of at the time.

While I think my family were all very good to granny, visiting her as often as we could, there were still long stretches of the days and weeks where she was all alone. Her lack of confidence in her walking abilities after a fall or two had kept her housebound, and the same was true for her closest neighbours and friends.

I watched my grandmother go from a top of the household figure, the epicentre of the family to a less able, less independent woman who needed more help with the little things. She needed more company than the HSE could provide with home help, she needed more regular conversations and the opportunity to socialise on those long, lonely days; something that we can all feel the wrath of if we’re not in the position to do anything about. Tess was, and is, not alone. This very same story is far too familiar for the older members of our society. Situations change in our lives as we get older; that's just life, but if we’re not prepared for them they will have knock-on effects.

More than one million older people regularly go an entire month without speaking to anyone, according to charity Age UK. This is a huge problem that needs to be tackled for so many different reasons.

The world's older population continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. Today, 8.5 percent of people worldwide (617 million) are aged 65 and over. According to a report, “An Aging World: 2015,” this percentage is projected to jump to nearly 17 percent of the world's population by 2050 (1.6 billion).”

Isolation & loneliness research shows that loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health: lacking social connections is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Social isolation takes a heavy toll on those who suffer from it, both in health and overall well-being. An effort to quantify the cost of loneliness in the US also found that among Americans aged 65 or older, social isolation costs the US government nearly $7 billion in additional health care costs per year.

Mental Health issues such as Alzheimer's disease, depression and senile dementia are closely associated with not seeing enough people and lack of close relationships.

Due to modern day advancements in healthcare and medication, we’re living much longer and older than ever before. Increased levels of education have already seen family sizes shrinking, making it more and more challenging to provide the necessary social care for older loved ones as they get on in age.

These two facts alone have a significant impact on our ability to take care of our ageing population. Then, when you think of the globalising nature of people living abroad or just outside the range of regular visits, things we once took for granted get a lot more difficult.

Grandpal is building a product to make it easier for family members to provide better care for their parents as they get older. With a splash of technology to connect the dots, we are curing old age loneliness by ensuring regular conversations and visits for our older loved ones who would really benefit from the additional one on one time.

Families need a better way to be prepared and organised around the needs of their older loved ones. Everyone needs to be on the same page with visibility of what's going on when and where, and have solutions for when they can’t be there themselves.

We’re at the beginning of a long journey to solve one of the biggest problems facing our society today. We’re curing old age loneliness, making it possible to age with grace and dignity in the fast-changing world we live in.

Be there for an older loved one, from anywhere.