Technology to benefit seniors in active ageing
IDA is helping to roll out innovative technology in 25 senior activity centres this year.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Tablets, senior-friendly applications and a robot capable of conducting exercises will soon benefit 25 senior activity centres (SACs) islandwide by end of this year, announced Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information at the opening of the ninth Silver IT Fest (previously called Silver Infocomm Day).
New projects in SACs
Since IDA set up the Digital Inclusion Fund last year, three projects under the Fund were revealed. One is a project called RoboCoach, which was created by two students at the School of Engineering at Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) last year. Going beyond the usual exercise videos being conducted regularly at voluntary welfare organisations, the robot offers seniors 15 random exercises as well as different exercise timings. Utilising sensors, the robot ensures the seniors perform the exercises correctly.
RoboCoach has already been deployed to Lions Befrienders SAC in Mei Ling Street and by end of this year, four more robots will be deployed to other SACs like Thye Hua Kwan. At the Lions Befrienders SAC, over 10 seniors are exercising with RoboCoach every Monday for 30 minutes.
According to Ng Kwek Khen, senior technical officer, NP’s School of Engineering, Electrical Engineering Division, NP will be coming out with a version 2 of the robot by year-end where more exercises will be added and it will also be able to speak more than just English, covering dialects like Hokkien and Cantonese.
The second project called NeuroAtHome also focuses on exercising, with 30 exercises covering the physical aspects and 30 on cognitive aspects shown on a TV screen. The exercises can be personalised by healthcare professionals to match a patient’s goal and capabilities. Patients can complete these sessions while standing or sitting down or even, using a walker or a wheelchair. This project developed by Spanish company, NeuroAtHome, will be rolled out to five other SACs by end of this year.
The last project is BenQ tablets that are pre-loaded with 20 games in various categories including hobbies, social, leisure, memory booster and wellness. Before end of this year, seniors at 15 SACs will enjoy this technology. When the seniors become more familiar with the tablets, more apps will be added.
According to IDA, these three projects have tapped the Social Innovation Fund under IDA’s Digital Inclusion Fund where 75 percent of costs will be covered or up to $100,000. This includes expertise and development of software and hardware. Partners then cover the remaining amount. “SACs don’t have to draw from their own funds,” explained IDA’s Christina Gan, cluster director, Social Development & Environment Cluster, Government Chief Information Office.
She explained that for the seniors, this is their first time playing or interacting with these gadgets and will find them “innovative” but it is important to “go slow and steady” in the approach. They will be assessing the feedback by the seniors this year before further rollout to other SACs. However, Gan prefaced that for example the robot is “just an assistive tool to improve lifestyle and there will be people monitoring”, addressing the all-important human touch as well.
Beyond helping with the funding, IDA is bringing in over 50 volunteers from corporates as well as its organisation to help the seniors at the various SACs understand and use the technology.
Transforming delivery of healthcare services
All this comes on the heels of last year when IDA and the Ministry of Health (MOH) jointly supported a remote patient monitoring trial at the National University Hospital (NUH), shared Dr Yaacob. Patients with health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes are issued with Bluetooth-enabled devices so they can measure their vital signs in the convenience of their homes. Patients’ readings are then transmitted automatically and wirelessly to NUH, where nurses can monitor that the readings are timely and normal.
If any deviation from pre-determined thresholds is seen, the nurses can intervene by adjusting the dosage or medication, thereby reducing incidences that would have otherwise resulted in hospital admissions. Said Dr Yaacob: “This is certainly a positive shift from the current practice, where patients have to physically visit the hospital and wait to see a doctor for a change in prescription.”
He added that the remote monitoring service has already benefitted more than 800 patients since it began last year. “As chronic diseases become more prevalent with a greying population, IT has immense potential to make healthcare more accurate and reliable, and at the same time, more convenient and comfortable for our seniors,” he added.
During Silver IT Fest, Dr Yaacob also shared the launch of Smart Eldercare, a collaboration with IDA, A*STAR, NTUC Health and St Luke’s Eldercare where they will identify the main challenges in caring for seniors and explore how technology can be used. They will develop innovative solutions through trials at the eldercare facilities identified by NTUC Health and St Luke’s Eldercare.
Also during the event, 20 IT-savvy seniors were appointed Silver Infocomm Wellness Ambassadors where they will serve as role models to encourage other seniors to learn to use IT and social media to expand their knowledge, pursue their hobbies and interests, and stay connected with the rest of the community. The initiative which is a collaboration between IDA and People’s Association brings the total of ambassadors to 102 since it was launched in 2012.