Technology driven innovation to care for the elderly

Providing adequate care for the elderly is a dilemma that every working adult grapples with. It is bizarre that for all the progress made with the advent of technology, we still appear to fall short when it comes to having a coherent strategy to take care of our parents as they age.

However, it is worth noting that remarkable progress has been made in the field of technology to ease the obstacles in geriatric care. The first Gerontechnology Symposium 2017, held in Monash University Malaysia, brought together pioneers in the field of gerontechnology to speak about the amalgamation of geriatrics and technology. This symposium was chaired by Associate Professor Teh Pei Lee, as part of a collaboration between the Monash University Malaysia Gerontechnology Lab with Global Asia in the 21st Century (GA21) Multidisciplinary Research Platform, Petrosains, IEEE Technology, and Engineering Management Society (TEMS) Malaysia Chapter.

Professor Andrew Walker, President and Pro Vice-Chancellor of Monash University Malaysia, shared about his vast experience of having worked in the Southeast Asian (SEA) region, and the progress nations have made in the field of medicine.

“Now aging, gerontology, and gerontechnology is a very important issue, which we are all experiencing day by day. I have worked a lot with the society of Southeast Asia, and I can say in the last five or six years now, what we have seen is a real fundamental social and economic transition in the SEA region.

“Forty or fifty years ago the challenges were very basic things like infant mortality rate and preventing the spread of communicable diseases. Now countries like Malaysia have moved through a very profound transition and are now facing other health challenges,” he added.

He elucidated the whole new set of challenges that come when a country achieves economic prosperity.

“One of the positive effects of prosperity is that people are living a lot longer, so there is that rapidly emerging challenge in this region. We have to think carefully about how to, not just care for our elderly population but, also about how the elderly population can play a positive and productive role in the society and economy,” he explained.

Yang Mulia Tengku Nasariah Tengku Syed Ibrahim, CEO of Petrosains, accentuated the importance of being receptive to the needs of the elderly, and the seeds of Petrosains’ collaboration with Monash University Malaysia.

“As a society, we need to understand the challenges faced by the older person and how you can help them. Petrosains has been privileged to have been involved in this initiative since last January.

“The response received when we co-hosted the gerontechnology exhibition with Monash University Malaysia, at our centre in KLCC, was very heartwarming. We showcased simulation suits, innovative gerontechnology applications like a walking stick, mobile bathtub, and also a research experiment on the smartphone home system that is specifically designed for the seniors,” she recounted.

Professor Yeh-Liang Hsu, Director, Gerontechnology Research Center, Yuan Ze University, gave a brief history and definition of gerontechnology.

“Gerontechnology came about in 1991 in Netherlands where an international congress on gerontechnology convened and formed this organisation. In 1997, The International Society for Gerontechnology was founded.

“I have to tell you gerontechnology is not about technology, it is primarily about design. The purpose of the design is to help adults, older adults into independent learning, and increasing their social participation,” he said

He added that the scope of Gerontechnology covers health, housing, mobility, communications and work.

Professor Ravindra S Goonetilleke, Professor, Department of Industrial Engineering and Logistics Management, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, highlighted some of the problems that blight the design industry and the importance of creation with objectivity and perspective.

“Today you can build a product within just a week, and roll it out very fast. There are software and hardware which are affordable, some even free. But how many things that we create are useful?” he questioned.

The symposium concluded with a question-and-answer session, followed by a tour of Monash University Malaysia’s Gerontechnology Lab that showcases latest innovative creations, based on interdisciplinary research focused on developing technology for the aging population.