Monash University Malaysia launches Gerontechnology Lab

Lab allows for more immediate application of research to better shape public policy and products related to older people.

Malaysia is set to become an ageing population by 2035, when citizens aged 60 years and above constitute 15% of the total population.

In light of this, Monash University Malaysia launched its Gerontechnology Lab on February 18, to serve as a platform for ongoing research in the area of gerontechnology – an interdisciplinary field of scientific research focused on developing technology for older people.

The Gerontechnology Lab is a collaborative effort between the schools of business, IT, health sciences, medicine, arts, social sciences and engineering.

“Internationally, Malaysia is still a relatively young population but ageing is a growing policy issue. As a university, we can help address some of the future challenges of an ageing population, which will relate to the kind of housing, support and services that are needed to ensure older people  have good quality of life,” said Professor Helen Bartlett, Pro Vice-Chancellor and President of Monash Malaysia during the launch.

Prof Bartlett says the Gerontechnology Lab allows for more immediate application of research, as it provides a live setting for different technologies and services to be carried out with older people as participants.

Prof Bartlett presenting token of appreciation to Cheng

“Ultimately, the research generated can have a direct impact by informing public policy-making and product development related to older people,” she said.

The Gerontechnology Lab also addresses the problem of limited access to older participants when conducting gerontechnology research, says Dr Teh Pei Lee, Associate Professor at Monash University Malaysia’s School of Business and Lead Researcher at the Gerontechnology Lab.

“We tried going into nursing homes [to conduct research] but access is difficult. Some older people have a negative perception about going to a nursing home. They would rather go to a university. Within the lab, we will organise seminars and activities for older people, as well as ask them to  participate in our research. This provides a win-win situation,” said Dr Teh. The lab consists of the Living Hall Station, Kitchen Station, Cognitive Station and Health Station. Construction of the lab cost RM50,000 and was funded by Khind Starfish Foundation, the CSR arm of Khind Holdings Bhd.

“It is great to have the opportunity to work with Monash to set up this lab and to come up with something useful for the country, not just for research purposes but as a resource centre for the public to better understand gerontechnology,” says Cheng Ping Keat, Group CEO of Khind Holdings  and Chairman of Khind Starfish Foundation.

Cheng says companies should engage in CSR not just for philanthropy’s sake, but because it is the way forward in doing business and to remain relevant to the community.

Current ongoing research projects in the lab include the development of a gerontological interface smartphone home system and emotionally intelligent robots for older people. The research projects are jointly funded by Monash University Malaysia and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation  (MOSTI), which provided a RM157,600 grant.

Dr Teh addressing the problem of limited access to older participants when conducting gerontechnology research

Monash University Malaysia is collaborating with other universities from Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and the United States on research projects such as a wearable human exoskeleton, ‘SmartWalk’ 3D-printed shoe and the healthcare-enabled ‘Beat Stick’ walking stick.

Moving forward, capacity-building is on the cards for the Gerontechnology Lab, shared Prof Bartlett. “The plan is to enlarge collaborations with researchers from other disciplines and universities, to build links and partnerships with healthcare providers, government and developers so that what  we do here can quickly blossom and have more impact,” she said.

Besides the older community, Monash University Malaysia students also stand to benefit from the Gerontechnology Lab. “Members of the younger generation do not really think about ageing. I’ve asked some students about their grandparents and many leave the caring aspect to their domestic helpers.  Students that visit the lab when projects are ongoing, are inspired to think more about the ageing process. It’s important to instill that experience in them,” said Dr Teh.

Prof Bartlett concurred. “It will challenge students’ attitude towards ageing. There is a lot of prejudice, misunderstanding and negativity around ageing in society. By working in the lab, students can better understand the ageing process, the challenges and how the community can assist.  Hopefully, they will develop a more positive perspective and a higher tolerance for working with older people.”