Gerontechnology, as the name suggests, refer to technological products targeted for the 60+ age group. In a new stage of life, what role does technology play to delight the retired?
Zheng Yongping: Elderly Care Service Enhanced with Multi-purpose Technology
According to Zheng Yongping, Head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, at PolyU and Director of Jockey Club Smart Ageing Hub, there are two reasons for the limited number of successful gerontech cases in Hong Kong. First of all, technology providers may not accurately understand what users really need. Secondly, users may not know how to choose products that suit their needs, or they may not be able to make use of these products in their everyday life or work.
In light of this, the Department of Biomedical Engineering Hong Kong Polytechnic University envisioned to build a cross-discipline gerontech cluster, and the “Jockey Club Smart Ageing Hub” project rose to the occasion. The five-year project was rolled out by the department, and the “Jockey Club Smart Ageing Hub” Day Experience Center, as well as several Real-life Hostels, were set up in 2018.
Procuring and developing products for residential care homes
The first focus of the project is to procure and to develop suitable gerontech products for partnering elderly care homes, so as to improve their service quality through the greater use of smart technology. Zheng said that suitable readily available products have already been identified for four partnering homes. At the same time, targeted gerontech products would also be developed to meet the specific service requirements of individual homes. All partnering homes welcome visits by the staffs of fellow participants.
Zheng quoted an example of a partner which provides service for people suffering from dementia. As he communicated with the staff of that home, Zheng and his team noted that it is quite difficult for certain dementia residents lacking in facial expressions to communicate with others. However, these residents do respond to some stimuli. Therefore, the team designed a smart interactive doll, which could use various sensors to observe the movements of elders and respond accordingly.
Alleviating the stress of caregivers
Zheng quoted residential care homes as an example. With many service recipients and inadequate manpower, work is always very busy, and the staff may not have the time to learn how to use new products. Coupling with the fact that residential care home staffs are also aging, gerontechnology that can alleviate the stress of caregivers are particularly important. He pointed out that residential care homes have a strong demand for eNightLog, a real-time bed-leaving monitoring system developed by the team that detects bed-leaving of elders. When the situation arises, real-time system alarms are sent to caregivers such that timely assistance can be offered. The development team has also built a mobile app for caregivers so that they can remotely monitor the bed-leaving situation anytime, anywhere.
Zheng reckoned products that truly meet the needs of users can only be developed through constant communication with users over the development cycle. However, technology providers rarely have the chance to discuss with users about product design. Thanks to the wealth of technology and expertise in the department, the amicable partnership established with residential care homes, as well as the research and development fully funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the team could focus on designing gerontech products targeted for residential care homes.
Situated in the campus of PolyU, the “Jockey Club Smart Ageing Hub Day Experience Centre” plays the role of connecting with the community. The Centre is not only a base that facilitates communication, but also offers public education.
The Centre host regular guided tours, lectures and workshops. Student assistants and elderly volunteers are invited to act as guides. The project team also designed a 1:1 smart home show flat at the Centre to demonstrate how gerontech is integrated into the household, such that visitors can better understand the purpose of products. A product gallery is also set up at the Centre where gerontech products from around the world are categorized and shown according to their functions. An interactive experience zone, on the other hand, demonstrates novel interactive games for elders.
Zheng hopes that the Centre can become a hub that converges all gerontech stakeholders.
Lawrence Cheung: Infinite Opportunities in Elderly Products
As the Hong Kong population ages, demand for elderly service is also growing strong. Effective use of technology can improve elders’ quality of living. Locally, Hong Kong Productivity Council hopes to create a shared platform for users and service providers through the “GeronTech Cluster”, so as to facilitate diversification in the local innovation industry and to promote growth of the gerontech market.
As reported by Ageing Asia, the silver economy in the Asia-Pacific region would reach USD 3.3 trillion by 2020, indicating Business opportunities are infinite in the ageing market.
New opportunities amidst ageing population
Lawrence Cheung, Chief Innovation Officer of Hong Kong Productivity Council sees ample opportunities in the gerontechnology sector, as the world is committed to integrate innovative technology with elderly care service so that elders can live more comfortably and caregivers can enjoy more convenience.
Cheung quoted the “Smart Glasses for Better Hearing and Reading” as an example. Leveraging on the electronic voice function of a mobile app, wearers’ hearing is enhanced through the bone-conduction headphone embedded in the smart glasses. “The Gerontech Health Care Monitoring System” developed for NGO residential care homes, on the other hand, collects health data of residents in real-time and makes use of smart sensors to trace the real-time location of elders. These work together to ensure their safety and to improve the management efficiency of residential care homes.
As noted by Cheung, the market’s demand for elderly products is no longer confined to products that handle and prevent accidents. Instead, more emphasis would be placed on enhancing the quality of living from all directions, covering the aspects of safety and health, social connection, management of everyday living, etc.
An industrial alliance with over 100 members
Cheung hopes that the “GeronTech Cluster” platform can facilitate the communication and exchange amongst the stakeholders of the gerontechnology industry in Hong Kong, helping them to locate funding, filling the gaps in culture and market size, and providing stakeholders with a product testing platform. More ideally, the cluster could help break the barriers amongst product developers, users and service providers, so that technologies can be applied to products and services related to the elders and synergy can be achieved more effectively.
Cheung added that more than 100 organizations have already joined the “GeronTech Cluster”. Participation in Hong Kong’s first gerontech industrial alliance has come from a broad spectrum, covering governmental, industrial, academic and research communities.
Regular exchanges encourage new ideas
To promote exchanges in gerontechnology from different sectors, “GeronTech Cluster” has organized more than 10 conferences, forums and brainstorming sessions over the past year to foster exchange and discussion around the challenges and opportunities brought about by gerontech development. Delegates from the platform have also been speaking at large-scale exhibitions to inspire ideas and to encourage seeking of new opportunities.
Through regular events, industrial information is communicated amongst members of the “GeronTech Cluster” to foster continuous upgrades and enhancement to the products and service related to the sector. Meanwhile, the cluster also strives to be a pioneer in Hong Kong’s gerontechnology, partnering with various sectors on researching and developing products that are designed for the local silver hair market, so as to achieve an all-win situation amongst users, service organizations and the society.
Going forward, Cheung hopes the platform can continue to put its role as an alliance into full play, riding on the strengths of HKPC in technological know-how to offer testing platform service for gerontech products, helping newly-developed products to test run in specific scenarios and to evaluate the safety and user experience of the products. Furthermore, the platform is preparing to set up a service to help with pairing users with SMEs developing gerontech products. A gerontech knowledge base is also in the pipeline such that a strong foundation can be built for product development and marketization.