Thursday, January 27, 2022

Many are familiar with the sad reality of isolation experienced by our aging loved ones living in senior care facilities. While some of the stories may be disheartening, there are uplifting stories as well, one of which, about a technology called “Obie,” was shared by Teaneck’s own Shira Weiss.

When Chani Garb Ashlag’s mother-in-law was at the Friedwald Center in New York, she and her husband witnessed the amazing revival of her spirit and abilities. Here was a woman who “taught the rest of us how to overcome physical challenges by leveraging her mind to accomplish anything,” said Chani. Attributing much of this recent and astonishing progress to the staff and the daily visits of a group of Chassidish ladies from New Square, Mama Ashlag blossomed. Chani was heartened by the group’s embracing all patients regardless of religious observance. The interactions among residents, visitors and staff were warm and wonderful. Residents thrived and improved … until the intrusion of COVID, which changed everything.

Absent visits from family or the New Square women, the facility became a place of isolation, loneliness and depression. When Mama Ashlag became infected with the virus, the camaraderie of friends who were residents, and the care by professionals, of necessity, became very different and distant. Despite heroic attempts by the staff to help keep families connected through Zoom, Skype and phone calls, loneliness and depression took hold.

Chani explained: “I am a new resident [to Teaneck] and finally understood why so many people love living here. Friends would drive over [to New York] to bring food to Mama Ashlag.” In a sobering conversation, Mama Ashlag, recovering after finally testing negative for COVID, told her daughter-in-law that the depression and loneliness of being isolated were making her lose her will to live.

Sharing this story with a friend, Chani learned about an Israeli company whose mission was from the start of COVID to save the elderly in nursing homes from isolation by adapting its existing technology known as “Obie.” She decided to make it her personal mission to share her story and the positive benefit that Obie can provide for seniors, whether at home or in care facilities. She regretted only that it was not available soon enough to help her mother-in-law, who had sadly passed away.

The name “Obie” has a fascinating backstory. Created by cinematographer Lucien Ballard, it is named for his wife, actress Merle Oberon. Nicknamed “Obie,” it refers to a small spotlight mounted on the side of the camera. A very cool side effect, described Ariel Almos, CEO and founder of EyeClick, was, “Having a source so close to the axis of the lens created a highlight in Oberon’s eyes. The term ‘Obie’ became widely used in the film industry, and refers to any on-camera light.” From this model, the Obie projection system was developed. Obie can operate on any surface, wall, floor or table and can be activated by touch or body movements and hand gestures. No external equipment is required, thereby meeting the social distancing protocols of COVID, since no one needs to touch the surface.

Michal Herz, PhD, aging product manager at EyeClick, Obie’s parent company, shared details about the original intentions of the technology and its target audience. Herz said that the Obie system now in use was “originally designed to enable children to play games involving full body movement and active play.” Asked how the application for the Obie technology migrated to senior care facilities, Herz responded: “What Obie does best is make people play and have fun. When COVID started we were approached by aging care facilities, so there would be a means of activity and engagement that was safe and fun.”

Chani sees Obie as life-altering for seniors, and wants to see all such care facilities make technology like Obie available in their locations. Efraim Siegfried, administrator and CEO of Complete Care Management, a user of Obie, described “seeing the residents who usually don’t like socializing or coming out of their rooms suddenly changing for the good.”

Siegfried explained: “During these long months of COVID, seniors in nursing facilities faced many challenges, including loneliness, isolation and in being less active than usual. Obie took care of all three of these components, and more.”

“Mama Ashlag was all about chesed,” said Chani. “In her name, I am already seeing our community coming together to continue that chesed, spreading the incredible ways technology can help our loved ones in nursing homes.”

Nothing would honor Mama Ashlag more than having people promote the idea of eradicating the isolation by bringing meaningful technology into senior residential living centers. For more information, visit https://obieforseniors.com. To find out more about Obie in action locally, visit https://completecaremgmt.com

By Ellie Wolf


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