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Devices, mobile apps help keep elderly safe

As Singapore's silver generation grows in number, so do the challenges in keeping them safe. Local technology developers are starting to cater to this market, through the use of both mobile applications and non-intrusive devices.

SINGAPORE: As Singapore's silver generation grows in number, so do the challenges in keeping them safe. Local technology developers are starting to cater to this market, through the use of both mobile applications and non-intrusive devices.

The LUV1 device keeps a quiet watch at homes which have elderly people living in them. Developed by local firm Nextan, the sensor-based wireless elderly monitoring system is less intrusive than camera-based systems.

It analyses activity in homes and notifies caregivers if any anomalies are discovered. It is also intelligent enough to differentiate between people who are sleeping and those who have lost consciousness after a fall.

Sean Tan, managing director of Nextan, said: "It's basically infrared -- it picks up activity or movement. The multiple sensors placed across and around a unit, you could extract intelligent information out from it.

"From a person's movement, it can rapidly tell how well they are, or if there is any kind of so-called emergency that needs to be responded to."

From sensors to trackers, developers are increasingly finding eldercare applications for their technologies. With more companies choosing to collaborate with voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), such technologies are also being applied in the real world.

One such VWO is the Lions Befrienders -- with many elderly individuals under their care living alone, systems such as the LUV1 acts as a safety net that augments house visits by their volunteers.

Goh Boo Han, executive director of Lions Befrienders, said: "Occasionally, you have reports in the press that seniors die at home and go unnoticed for days. We hope that this system will help us with enabling the seniors to call for help on a more timely basis."

Technology to enhance the safety of the elderly is still in its infancy, and costs to develop and implement them remain high.

App developers Towards Technology believe mobile apps might be a cheaper alternative to specialised systems.

By utilising GPS capabilities in smartphones, their solutions turn such devices into personal trackers which help keep a watchful eye over the elderly, and provide timely updates on their condition.

Nicholas Ooi, co-founder of Towards Technology, said: "Twenty minutes is a critical time for someone to assist if someone's in an emergency situation. So let's say if we don't have such a system, it could be one or two hours (of leaving the elderly) in a state of unconsciousness.

"With this system, maybe (within) ten or twenty minutes, if he's not responding, you will receive a notification that something is happening."

However, The adoption of such technologies by VWOs and eldercare organisations remains low.

Besides concerns over cost and privacy issues, there are concerns that relying too heavily on technology might lead to further isolation of the elderly.

Ng Koon Sing, manager of COMNET Senior Services, said: "There are other aspects that we are concern(ed about) -- like their psychological well-being. It's very important (to have) the human touch, to go in, chit-chat with them, and encourage them to come out into the community."

For some elderly, personal safety might also just remain an afterthought.

Chua Kah Keng, an LUV1 user, said: "No worries, no concerns. I don't care. I just live here like that. I lived in Block 405, someone died there before but I'm not scared. I still stayed on... It doesn't matter."

Perhaps the greatest challenge for developers now is to find not only a technological answer to safety, but a human one that resonates with seniors themselves. 

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