Partnering older adults to co-create innovative ageing solutions

Stroke survivor Mr Ng, who is 72 years old, suffers from hemiplegia – a form of paralysis on one side of his body that affects the dexterity of his left hand, making it hard for him to perform daily activities such as opening food jars. To work around that, Mr Ng would leave the jars loosely covered, causing the food to quickly go off.

Grip Buddy, a simple device that helps a user to open and close jars using one hand and the hip, will benefit seniors like Mr Ng. Developed by a team of NUS students from the College of Design and Engineering, Grip Buddy is a device measuring 12cm by 21.5cm, equipped with features like anti-slip design and cushioned contact points.

This practical innovation, designed by students under the “bGood” initiative of the NUS Biomedical Engineering, has caught the eye of local social service agencies and to date orders have been placed for around 100 Grip Buddies to be deployed at various centres in the community.

Grip Buddy was one of the 21 exhibits at the GeronTech Showcase organised by NUS, in partnership with Lions Befrienders and People’s Association. The event, which was also part of the engagement activities of the University’s Health District @ Queenstown initiative, was held on 22 April at a community pavilion in Stirling Road.

With Singapore facing an increasingly ageing population, the event introduced emerging and innovative technologies that alleviate challenges associated with growing old, showcasing projects by NUS Biomedical Engineering students as well as innovations from NUS faculty members and NUS start-ups.

“While we have been working closely with Lions Befrienders for various initiatives, this is the first time we are holding a gerontechnology showcase in the community,” said Dr James Kah, a Senior Lecturer with the NUS Department of Biomedical Engineering. Dr Kah teaches the module “BN4102 Gerontechnology in Ageing” at NUS, which produced several of the projects on show, and oversees the bGood initiative, which also co-creates solutions for the disability community. Dr Kah is also a member of the Health District @ Queenstown initiative.

“By bringing this Showcase to senior residents at their estates, and having our NUS students and researchers interact with the older adults, we hope to co-design and jointly develop technological innovations that will improve the quality of life of our seniors. Prototypes will first be tested in community, and eventually be deployed in a larger scale within the community to benefit more seniors.”  

Senior-friendly innovations

Besides Grip Buddy, another NUS student project featured was Happy Feet 2.0, an elderly-friendly dancing game designed to keep the elderly physically and mentally active as they dance to popular songs they are familiar with. 

To encourage older adults to both move their feet and promote cognitive stimulation, the students came up with an engaging and fun activity where players follow a series of arrows shown on a screen and steps on corresponding tiles on the mat to earn points. Created specially for seniors, Happy Feet 2.0 comes with a non-slip mat, cushioning foam, slower game speeds and larger on-screen icons.

NUS researchers also participated in the community event. One of their inventions on show was the EsoGlove, a lightweight, soft robotic glove that enables patients with impaired hand functions to perform rehabilitation exercises in the comfort and convenience of their home. Designed to detect and interpret muscle signal, the EsoGlove also serves to assist patients in carrying out tasks like holding a cup.

Also on display was a tablet-based remote digital therapy game known as Multi-Attribute Task Battery (MAT-B), in which players complete multiple tasks in an air-flight control simulation setting. Data collected from the game can then be used to construct individual performance profiles, providing information on how digital therapy can be personalised for senior users to address cognitive decline.

The event attracted about 200 residents from the Queenstown area who tested the devices on show and provided feedback to the developers.

“This is a good event; after the students have designed (their products), you seek opinions from the end-users,” said Mr Ong, a resident who attended the GeronTech Showcase with his wife.

“We give feedback on whether it is feasible or applicable, and you can rethink and improve on the design to suit the targeted users.”

The Health District @ Queenstown is co-led by NUS, National University Hospital System, and Housing & Development Board. The pilot initiative aims to co-design and testbed design and programme strategies to support the health and well-being of residents throughout their life journey.