Solutions for seniors & caregivers get seed-funding
Sensors to protect against pressure ulcers and a pill dispenser come up tops in the first Modern Aging event, with funding each of S$50,000 to build their businesses.
Sensors to protect bedridden patients from pressure ulcers and infections, and an automated pill dispenser to help patients adhere to prescription regimes were the top projects given the thumbs-up. Each were awarded seed-funding of S$50,000 at the first Modern Aging Singapore final pitching, organised by ACCESS Health International and NUS Enterprise.
Out of the 96 teams that submitted entries, these teams were then narrowed to 20 teams, and shortlisted to the six finalists. Before the final judging, the teams went through an introductory workshop in August 2015. From there, they also went through an online learning portal, workshops with healthcare practitioners, industry talks and individual mentoring sessions to help them develop their ideas into feasible solutions.
The two teams – Altrue and Pilpresso – shared the top seed-funding. Altrue’s Silver Lining is a smart-sensing solution that can detect the presence of urine and faeces in a patient’s diaper and alert the caregiver. The team has developed a prototype that is about 28cm in length, weighing 70g, and is worn on the exterior of a patient’s diaper. A disposable adhesive sleeve maintains hygiene.
When the non-contact sensor detects soiled content, a signal is then sent to the caregiver through a three-level hierarchy system. At the first level, an alert is sent to the caregiver’s wristband via wireless communication. Should there be no response after a period of time, the second level is activated, where an SMS is sent to the caregiver’s mobile phone. The third level is reserved for emergencies, such as detecting prolonged periods of inactivity, where a call is made to the caregiver, followed by next-of-kin and finally the authorities.
Silver Living can also be used to alert the caregiver when the patient needs to be rotated, which is necessary to prevent bedsores. The timing can be customised according to the patient and existing skin condition. All data can be recorded and stored to provide healthcare professionals more information on the patient’s condition. The team shared that one in 10 elderly get bedsores, one in six elderly get incontinence-associated dermatitis (IAD) and one in five elderly get urinary tract infection (UTI).
Benjamin Xue of Team Altrue, shared how they will use the funding: “We shall be directing the prize money to further the R&D of Silver Lining and product marketing. As Silver Lining has been a project embarked upon during our personal time, we would need to incorporate the company and grow the team. 2016 will be an exciting year as we finalise the hardware and software design. We hope to launch Silver Lining by 2017.”
The other winning team is Team Pillpresso. Many seniors need to take daily medication to manage conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and various other chronic diseases. Complex medication regimes can be confusing and with poor eyesight and memory, seniors are at risk of taking the wrong types and amounts of medication. The team also shared that only about 50 percent of patients with chronic diseases living in developed countries follow treatment recommendations, according to World Health Organization, 2003, estimates. To address all this, Pillpresso has designed an electronic medicine dispenser, which consists of a coffee machine-sized device with 10 removable compartments.
The device is able to sort and dispense pills as prescribed. When it is time to take medication, an alarm reminds the seniors, who simply press a button to dispense the pills. Medication can be dispensed in advance into a small pillbox for those on-the-go. The device will communicate with a mobile app to notify caregivers or loved ones, so they are assured that medication has been taken.
Pillpresso would be refilled by a trained pharmacist, typically every three months, with the right medicine and medication schedules. The team is currently developing the Pillpresso prototype, which can sort and dispense a single pill if need be. The team is also creating software to control the device and they target to complete the development by end of 2016.
Jerome Ng from the team said that the Modern Aging initiative brought together his team of four like-minded individuals, who have a common objective of wanting to improve seniors’ daily lives. “Each of the team members has a full-time job in academia, healthcare services and civil service, which has allowed us to bring relevant skill sets to Pillpresso,” said Ng. He added that the money received would be put towards developing the prototype into a viable product.
“Once this is ready, we need to work hard to get acceptance from the various stakeholders, in order to bring Pillpresso to market,” he said.
Building a community of entrepreneurs on ageing
The winners was judged on the value proposition of their idea, market potential, economic and financial model, and the team’s strength and entrepreneurial ability. Besides the funding, the winning teams – Team Altrue and Team Pillpresso – will be eligible for incubation support by NUS Enterprise, including mentorship, funding assistance, access to international linkages and invitations to relevant events.
Another team, SoundEye, which focuses on a personal emergency response system that allows caregivers and voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to monitor elderly who are living at home alone, was awarded S$25,000 in seed-funding. A standard package consisting of three sensor units are fixed on the ceiling to identify possible emergencies such as a fall. This is done using thermal infrared and ultrasonic detectors, as well as detecting calls for help through a microphone. Should a fall or a call for help occurs, SoundEye alerts the caregiver or VWO who can take appropriate action.
SoundEye can also be used to gather data on the elderly’s daily activities such as sleeping/waking times, number of times the house is left and number of visits to the bathroom. This will provide caregivers with useful information, without significant intrusions on privacy. This technology is based over two years of research from A*STAR’s Institute for Infocomm Research and the SoundEye team who are currently at the Institute.
The other three finalists included the teams from eMPOWER (provides an e-platform of information), Kampung Spirit (focuses on intergenerational bonding) and YOBIAV (youth biomolecular avatar).
Said Dr William A Haseltine, chairman and president of ACCESS Health International, “We made real progress in building a community of entrepreneurs interested in creating businesses that address the needs of the elderly and that can contribute the economic progress of Singapore.”
Dr Lily Chan, CEO, NUS Enterprise, added that the Modern Aging initiative brings participants’ ideas to life and translates innovations and technologies into new solutions that address the well-being of seniors and their caregivers. “We hope all the teams will carry on their entrepreneurial journeys, as they strive to make social impact on the ageing community in Singapore, the region and international markets,” she said.
The Modern Aging initiative is being held annually.