More space, robotics at revamped Tan Tock Seng Hospital rehabilitation clinic

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung watching leukaemia patient Rinesh Radhakrishnan get therapy, which involves strapping on a 16kg robotic exoskeleton. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - A revamped rehabilitation clinic at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) will help meet the growing demand for such services as Singapore's population ages and the "disability tsunami" looms.

At nearly 20,000 sq ft, the new Clinic for Advanced Rehabilitation Therapeutics is four times larger than its predecessor. Apart from conventional therapy equipment, it is equipped with futuristic robots that help people in their recovery journey.

The hospital traditionally rehabilitates people with stroke, brain and spinal cord injuries. It will now also provide therapy for those with neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease, as well as patients who are recovering from multiple serious injuries.

For example, patients can practice walking on different types of terrain or work on their balance on a machine that simulates being in a moving bus.

Other patients may need to build up their arm strength or relearn the ability to pick up small objects.

The new clinic expects 13,000 patient visits this year, up from 5,400 last year and 8,000 in 2019 before the pandemic.

Much of this demand is driven by Singapore's ageing population, said Dr Loh Yong Joo, who heads TTSH's rehabilitation medicine department.

"Besides what we call the silver tsunami, there is also, unfortunately, the disability tsunami," he said.

Not all patients who might benefit from rehabilitation currently undergo such programmes.

"That's why some of them may suffer from increased problems at home. With a bigger suite of services here, we will be able to enrol them... to do rehabilitation programmes."

One person currently getting therapy at the new clinic is 17-year-old Rinesh Radhakrishnan, who began to lose his ability to walk independently after developing leukaemia.

For the Secondary 4 student, rehabilitation involves strapping on a 16kg robotic exoskeleton, which guides his steps and sounds a buzzer when he makes a wrong move.

"I'm using a walking frame, and the goal is to slowly move on to a walking stick and then be hands-free, so I can walk normally. That's my goal - we aim high," he said.

The new Clinic for Advanced Rehabilitation Therapeutics is four times larger than its predecessor. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The new clinic aims to make robotic therapies more accessible to patients in the community, and inked an agreement with technology company Fourier Intelligence on Monday to collaborate on this goal.

It signed another agreement with charity organisation Stroke Support Station, which will see TTSH refer stroke patients in stable condition to the organisation for rehabilitation, to ensure that care continues even after patients are discharged from hospital.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, who spoke at the reopening of the facility, stressed the importance of pairing state-of-the-art technology with committed manpower and accessible community support.

"(People) need to know that downstairs, in the precinct - near the hawker centre, near the MRT station - is where they can go for rehab services," he said. "We really need to rethink the way we deploy resources and make them present on the ground."

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