Magnetic pull of electrotherapy for the elderly

People waiting outside the shop at Block 632, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4, last Friday. While the electrotherapy sessions are free, those who eventually want to buy the devices have to pay up to $26,000.
People waiting outside the shop at Block 632, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4, last Friday. While the electrotherapy sessions are free, those who eventually want to buy the devices have to pay up to $26,000.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Many seniors flock regularly to such free sessions conducted in neighbourhood shops

Almost every day for the past two months, retiree Seng Sung Huay has been going to the same shop at Block 825, Tampines Street 81.

There, the 70-year-old joins a group of about 50 elderly people in a free electrotherapy session, lasting 30 minutes to an hour each time.

They sit on an electrostatic pad, in rows of chairs, as a Cosmo Goodness staff member briefly introduces the device, before delving into topics relating to wellness and health.

"I was here on the second day the showroom opened in Tampines," said Mr Seng. "I first heard about this machine from a friend a few months ago. Using it has helped to cure the pains in my body."

At the company's two other locations in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4 and Lorong 4 Toa Payoh, hundreds of elderly people pack its premises from about 10am to 7pm, six days a week.

The company, which originated in Japan and began operating here in 2007, promotes its range of electrotherapeutic devices. These are said to be able to generate an electric field through the body.

According to its website, these devices "alleviate headaches, shoulder stiffness, insomnia and chronic constipation".

While the company has been running its "showrooms" for free since 2009, those who wish to own the devices have to pay up to $26,000. The price includes an armchair that can be wired to the machine.

Elderly people have been flocking to pop-up stores in Ang Mo Kio, Tampines and Toa Payoh, where they get to sit on an electrostatic chair pad for free. Cosmo Goodness, which runs these sessions, claims the devices have health benefits. Some customers
Free electrotherapy sessions spark craze: Elderly people have been flocking to pop-up stores in Ang Mo Kio, Tampines and Toa Payoh, where they get to sit on an electrostatic chair pad for free. Cosmo Goodness, which runs these sessions, claims the devices have health benefits. Some customers end up buying the devices, which cost up to $26,000. However, the Health Sciences Authority says the products are not regulated as medical devices under the Health Products Act. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
 

The cheapest set costs $14,600, according to a brochure seen by The Straits Times.

"Initially, I didn't believe that the device would work. But, after trying it out a few times, I can feel the effects," said Mr Kian Doh Lian, 63. "I feel more energised and refreshed."

  • Not all electrotherapy equipment are regulated as medical devices

    Electrotherapy involves "the use of specialised medical devices that create high-voltage AC electric fields" around the body, Cosmo Goodness says on its website.

    However, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said, in response to queries, that the products sold by the company are not regulated as medical devices under the Health Products Act. This is because they are meant to promote a person's general well-being and not for disease treatment or diagnosis.

    "Electrotherapy devices are regulated as medical devices if they are designed specifically to diagnose, treat, monitor or prevent medical conditions and diseases," said the spokesman.

    She added that "the intended use and claims must be supported by scientific evidence".

    Mr Pang Chee Kien, 46, a manager at the company's Toa Payoh showroom, said that he tells customers the products are for "health management" and not medical devices.

    "Electrostatic machines are available in many countries, especially in Japan, where they have been using it for medical purposes. But in Singapore, no," he said.

    In a brochure seen by The Straits Times, the company also claims that its machines are able to release "concentrated oxygen".

    Raffles Medical senior family physician Derek Li advised against breathing in concentrated oxygen for prolonged periods, as this can result in oxygen toxicity.

    Dr Li said: "For the lungs, this can manifest as inflammation and water build-up, leading to lung damage. High concentrations of oxygen can also cause oxidative damage to our cells and organs, causing seizures."

    The HSA advised the public to "exercise prudence and be wary of products that make miraculous claims" for medical conditions and general well-being.

    Ng Huiwen

The delivery driver, who spoke to ST at the Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4 shop, said he has decided to put down $18,000 for a set, which was discounted from $26,000. He has not paid anything and said there was no pressure to buy.

Case: 3 complaints lodged against firm since 2007

"I am hoping to pay by instalments. If we have it at home, then my wife and I can both use it whenever we want," he said.

The "showrooms" often spring up in the heartland and are run by two to three people for a few months each time.

Many regular patrons told ST that the company reveals its next location only a few days before it shuts. To delay a move, at least 300 people must visit the showroom each day, said the patrons.

Mr Seng, who had previously been to showrooms in Toa Payoh and Bedok South, said he will follow the company so that he can continue to enjoy the device for free as he can't afford to buy one.

Explaining the company's curious publicity methods, Mr Pang Chee Kien, a Cosmo Goodness manager at the Toa Payoh shop, said: "We move around to try to reach as many people as possible, because some, like those in wheelchairs, find it difficult to come to us."

The 46-year-old said that the products are "very safe", citing certification from the International Electrotechnical Commission, among others.

In response to queries, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) said there have been three complaints against the company since 2007.

Two complaints were about misleading claims regarding the effectiveness and suitability of the products, while the other was due to a dispute over the refund amount.

"Where possible, consumers should try out the electrotherapy treatment before purchasing the device to ensure that it is suited to their needs," said Mr Loy York Jiun, Case's executive director.

He added that consumers should also opt for electrotherapy devices with a clear and acceptable refund and exchange policy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2017, with the headline 'Magnetic pull of electrotherapy for the elderly'. Print Edition | Subscribe