Eldercare: Technology

Innovative aids to help the elderly stay safe and fit at home

This rehabilitative game makes use of interactive tiles to help seniors (from left) Hans Joergen and Bendt Fogh improve their balance and reflexes while having a fun workout at the Vennerslund Day Centre.
This rehabilitative game makes use of interactive tiles to help seniors (from left) Hans Joergen and Bendt Fogh improve their balance and reflexes while having a fun workout at the Vennerslund Day Centre.ST PHOTO: JANICE TAI

Singapore is on the hunt for innovative devices that will help elderly citizens continue to live independently at home.

Such aids, meant to improve daily functioning in areas such as hearing or showering, should be easy to use, safe and cost-effective.

"We hope to attract multi-disciplinary research proposals that are scaleable and sustainable, and transform the way we see assistive devices today," said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor as she called for proposals for such devices at a conference last week.

To date, about $8 million has been awarded to projects under the Care-at-Home Innovation Grant. Some involve having an e-marketplace to match volunteers with seniors requiring home care and a call centre service that will respond to seniors who need help.

Singapore can draw some ideas from Denmark, said Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Heng Chee How at a dialogue held between the two countries last month to exchange views on how to design elderly-friendly societies. It was organised by the Royal Danish Embassy.

"We can learn from the Danish experience in terms of the preventive and rehabilitative part of care," said Mr Heng, especially since Singapore is moving away from a model it is traditionally strong in, such as acute care, to improve its community- and home-based care.


"Assistive technology is going to become an increasingly important part of the story. As people live longer, how are you going to enable the individual to keep his functioning up for as long as possible?" he said.

Denmark has set up "living labs" countrywide to encourage innovation. Private firms can introduce the latest technology, including eldercare products, at these spaces, allowing government officials and citizens to test them and give feedback.

The inventions include a bed that helps turn a bedridden person on his back or side automatically, and a ceiling hoist that gently lifts a senior from his bed to a wheelchair.

Seniors in Denmark are invited to move into these living labs for a week or a month to try out the technologies for themselves.

Both countries are ageing rapidly. One in four people here will be 65 or above by 2030. Denmark will face a similar situation by 2040.

In recent years, the Danes have used technology to ramp up home care and rehabilitative care.

By 2019, all patients with lung disease in Denmark will monitor and manage their condition on their own at home using electronic devices. These aids will enable them to record and track vital signs, and hold regular videoconferences with nurses and doctors. There are plans to do the same for patients with diabetes and heart disease.

Danish residents are able to use technology to manage their own health at home because they have access to the national electronic health record system.

"I can go into the portal and see all my medicines, lab results, clinical notes written by my doctors, so I am empowered as a citizen to have insight into my own health," said Mr Hans Erik Henriksen, who is chief executive of Healthcare Denmark, a non-profit organisation that is partly supported by the government.

"Now, a lot of people live for a long time with chronic disease. That means it is not just about the doctor giving you a pill or sewing you back together any more - you have to manage it yourself at home," said Ms Ninna Thomsen, Copenhagen's health and care mayor.

Some assistive technology can also be used in daycare centres or nursing homes in the community. For instance, the Vennerslund Day Centre in Copenhagen partnered the Technical University of Denmark to introduce a game that helps seniors improve their balance and reaction times. Robotic tiles controlled by a tablet light up when the user steps on them in a certain sequence.

"I can't afford to buy it but noticed the fun we had when we played it together as a group," said Mr Hans Joergen, 80, who goes to the centre three times a week. The game, which costs about $7,000, is free for use at various daycare centres.

"It's fantastic to use technology this way to keep our limbs strong and nimble indoors when the weather outside isn't good for walking in the woods."

Janice Tai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2016, with the headline 'Innovative aids to help the elderly stay safe and fit at home'. Subscribe