Archive by Author | agmark

Lonely no more in Shanghai

L is for the way you look at me,
O is for the only one I see,
V is very, very extraordinary,
E is even more than anyone that you adore can..

Love, is what today’s post is about. We have had so many songs of romance since the birth of music and L-O-V-E was the final album released by Nat King Cole before he died in 1965. But what is the connection then between today’s special focus on love, the elderly and (to spice things up) Swedish furniture manufacturer IKEA?

In Shanghai, the IKEA in Xuhui district is quickly becoming a mecca for dating seniors. According to an expert from a U.S.-based management consulting company, this is because of the casual atmosphere that acts more as a place of leisure than a place to buy furniture. At a weekly session of romance in IKEA’s cafeteria outlet, the seniors would gather in a group of 70 to 700 to chat over a cup of free coffee offered to holders of the IKEA Family membership card. Staffs can expect to hand out as many as 500 cups of coffee every time the group meets up. When quizzed on why IKEA was chosen as a matchmaking location, some seniors pointed out to the availability of similar lonely hearts that throngs the outlet looking for either friendships or relationships.

You can find a boyfriend or girlfriend, or just make friends and chat. It makes you a little bit happier,” says Ge, a smartly dressed 50-year-old woman who retired not long ago.

Ge’s friend, with the surname Han, is a retired bus-ticket seller also explains, “If I meet a guy and he’s appropriate for me, we can call each other. But if he finds someone more suitable for me, he’ll help and introduce me to the other guy.”

This phenomenon can be traced to China’s soaring divorce rate, shifting demographics and the relaxing atmosphere of the stores themselves. Shanghai is fast becoming an ageing society and as early as three years ago, retirees have started to frequent the IKEA in Shanghai. Some such as Ge however, understand that they are living off the goodwill of the company through their extended ‘coffee dates.’ They believe that an ideal solution would be the establishment of a similar setting in their communities, a suggestion worthy of consideration for the government.

Social support is important, especially for the elderly who are living at a fragile age. In Singapore, social support services and programmes in the communities not only cater to the lonely and vulnerable elderly, but also seek to encourage active lifestyles among the seniors. The Chinese government could perhaps adopt such concepts as they plan the blueprint towards elderly-friendly communities in the city.

Meanwhile, for the divorced and lonely seniors in Shanghai, where do broken hearts go, can they find their way home?

They certainly will, in IKEA , as love will keep us alive.

(Source: NPR)

(Image source: Whats on Xiamen, Mark Ralston)


From iPhones to smart slippers

Think AT&T and cellular devices such as iPhones as well as Blackberries would spring to mind.

These days however, the American telecommunications giant is also venturing into telehealth devices and a communication network that could potentially expand its wireless business. A slew of prototype connected health products have already been developed by AT&T’s scientists who are seeking to make everyday household items “part of the network cloud.”

One particular innovation that is still under clinical trials aims to reduce fall rates among the elderly. Statistically in the US, about one third of the elderly over 65 fall each year and 10% of these cases result in serious injury or death. The “smart slippers” designed by AT&T’s scientists may be the solution to this growing problem. With built-in pressure sensors in their soles to record gait, stride, and pace measurements as elderly patients walk, these information will then be transmitted over AT&T’s network to healthcare providers. By noting changes in the elderly patient’s walking pattern, the device will notify a doctor via e-mail or text message of a problem before they take a tumble. This could reduce the chance of a fall and a costly trip to the hospital. In the UK, medical expenditure of fall injuries and deaths by the elderly are already amounting up to a staggering £6m daily and the government is looking to promote music-based exercises to build strength and reduce falls among the elderly.

In addition, the other pilot programme initiated by AT&T covers the aspect of diabetes management while its ‘telehealth solutions’ involve the use of high-definition video and audio conferencing technology to offer patients in underserved regions access to higher quality care. Vitality Glowcaps that run on AT&T’s wireless network is also an interesting feature to aid elderly patients with medication reminders.

With a swelling elderly population nationwide, AT&T is one of the few companies that are working on a technology solution that not only lower costs but enhance medical care at the same time. According to AT&T’s Xavier Williams, “If we do what we think we’re capable of doing, we think we’re able to change healthcare the way ATMs changed banking.”
And with forward-looking innovations such as the “smart slippers,” they are certainly taking the right ‘step’ forward.

(Source: FierceHealthcare, MobiHealthNews, Business Week)

(Image source: Business Week)

(Video source: ATTBizSolutions)

My first senior-friendly phone

Several weeks ago, I had a bathroom mishap where my smartphone was in the thick of the action. Seemingly beyond my control, the Nokia E72 tempted fate and took a nosedive straight into the toilet bowl. Why it was so keen to pick up swimming at that particular moment, I will never know. But one thing for certain was that an iPhone beckons as the ‘little swimmer’ was pronounced dead on the spot. In the meantime, I was now in the market for a short-term mobile replacement.

Some serious pondering later, I made a decision and bought myself a senior-friendly phone.

Interestingly, there are a variety of names attached to this mobile. In the Americas and Europe, it is called the Just5 phone. Over to the east, Russians are also dubbing it as the ‘Babushka’ (grandmother) phone while in Singapore, it is commonly known as the iNO CP09 phone. To avoid confusion however, we will simply call it the Just5 phone.

Quite frankly, the Just5 phone is simplicity at its best. It takes the shape of a candybar and has elderly friendly features such as large keypad buttons, SOS button, torchlight and build-in speakerphone specifically designed for elderly mobile users to have a better experience. The FM radio function comes as a surprise as it does not require an earpiece to be plugged in in order to use it. Conveniently, the keypad can also be unlocked via a single button while the torchlight can be activated through a slide switch by the side. And if you are sharp enough, you would notice a woman and man icon at the bottom left (*) and right (#) keys. These are speed-dialling keys and they supposedly represent the daughter and son of the elderly to allow easy recognition and convenient access to their loved ones. For myself however, these two icons could represent my wife and boss in the near future.

From an adolescent point of view, the Just5 phone is also practical in a couple of scenarios;

What if I am surrounded by a bunch of thugs along a deserted alley?

By pressing the SOS button, a sharp siren pierces the air and wails in a desperate plea for help. At the same time, all the 4 emergency numbers that I have configured receive an emergency SMS text. The siren continues as each of the emergency contact numbers are being dialled in cycles until someone picks up. The wailing ceases and the Just5 phone goes into hands-free talk mode.

What if I have a bad sore throat and a lady asks for my number over the phone? 

I simply select the ‘human voice’ tone for my keypad. Then by pressing the digits of my number, the ‘human voice’ reads out the corresponding digits.

On top of being elderly-friendly, the Just5 phone is brilliantly simple for seniors to use. Indeed, it has fulfilled its purpose as a basic phone with practical functions. Yet, the future elderly will be different. In Singapore for instance, we have identified that they will possess plenty of energy and experience, as well as varying needs and aspirations. They may not only be socially active but also technologically savvy.  Thus, it is important that the next generation of Just5 phones take into account these factors and tailor their products to suit the varying demands of the future elderly.

(Source: The Telegraph, Just5)

(Image source: Ageing In Gear, Techie Lobang)

(Video source: Just5)

Laser windshields for elderly drivers

It was yet another mundane night to pass for the folks in a little diner when the door slowly creaked open. All eyes were curiously locked onto a towering beefcake as the man trudges forward expressionlessly. What was astonishing about him was the lack of clothes from head to toes. The man advances in the buff across the diner, approaching the billiard table where he sizes up another man. The movie screen brilliantly switches to a transparent red visual ‘dashboard-like’ display with multiple rows of flickering alphabets and figures by the side. The diagnosed result showed high relevance in terms of ‘similarity.’ What will ensue in this popular eighties action film is the delivery of an old-fashioned beat down by “The Terminator” before he obtain his clothes, boots and motorcycle.

Despite the date of the film release however, it has hinted slightly as to how futuristic technology will shape out to be over the years. In fact, the transparent red visual ‘dashboard-like’ illustration featured in the blockbuster is what we now call a “head-up display.” (HUD) It enables users to view data in their line of vision. Several auto makers such as BMW, Toyota and Lexus have already adopted this concept into their range of products. Many contemporary systems are able to display data from the speedometer and tachometer onto the windshields.

General Motors (GM) on the other hand has set their sights on developing a new generation of HUDs on their windshields. These windshields will combine the use of cameras, sensors and ultraviolet lasers to enhance the driving experience of an elderly. They will highlight objects in the roads and paint the road edges to aid elderly drivers in poor visibility conditions. Another function also involves tracking the driver’s position in order to align the images to be displayed on the windshields.

As the silver tsunami sweeps across the globe, there will be a surge in the number of elderly drivers and auto makers must start catering to this swelling group of consumers worldwide. In addition, ageing deficiencies will pose as an obstacle to elderly drivers (as I have mentioned a couple of months back) and there will be emerging issues concerning with the safety and independence of the seniors that must be addressed.

(Source: NY Daily News)

(Image source: Switched)

(Video source: Network World)

Promoting active ageing

As I enter the gym the gym on a regular day, a familiar male voice greeted me by the entrance.

“Eh young man, why you come? Go back, go back!”

It was Mr Danker. I stopped dead in my tracks, seemingly offended by what I have just heard. Visibly livid, I turned around and glare at him like I was about to explode. An uncomfortable tension begins to build as I await for the right opportunity to strike. Noting the blank expression he wears on his face, this represents the ideal moment. I erupt into uncontrollable laughter before he realizes that this was another silly joke of mine.

“Grow up lah, young man!” he wailed.

Mr Danker is the administrator for the gym. Already past his retirement age of 65, he continues to lead an active lifestyle like many elderly patrons who visits in the morning. He belongs to the group of ageing baby boomers today who are better educated, richer and healthier. On the one hand, they will have plenty of experience and energy for us to harness as opportunities, and on the other hand, their varying lifestyle choices will entail challenges for policy-makers.

All in all, there are 4 key thrusts towards an active lifestyle and well-being for the elderly. In order to encourage healthy lifestyles, the government has established elderly-friendly sports infrastructures and facilities to spur participation from the seniors. Community centres gyms (similar to the one  mentioned above) also offer discounts to elderly patrons. To promote social interaction, more public spaces have been constructed within housing estates and neighbourhood parks for the elderly to socialize. The National Wellness Programme launched in 2010 helps seniors to not only combat loneliness, but also to lead an active lifestyle. Learning and contributing opportunities-wise, community colleges are offering courses in language, literature, culture, life skills development etc to the elderly for personal interests and employability. Active senior volunteerism provides the elderly with a chance to contribute meaningfully to the society. The reading programme by the National Library for instance, provides seniors with such opportunity to conduct storytelling sessions to the children. Finally, in order to build stronger family ties, intergenerational bonding programmes initiated by communities bring seniors closer to their loved ones.

On top of these thrusts, voluntary organizations seek to promote positive attitudes towards ageing while the annual Senior Citizens Award serves to honour active senior citizens and model grandparents in the community.

To sum it up, the Committee on Ageing Issues (CAI) has produced a comprehensive yet realistic framework towards their objective of achieving “Successful Ageing for Singapore.” The past 5 posts have offered plenty of insights with regards to the committee’s approach to building an accessible elderly-friendly environment, a holistic and affordable eldercare system, as well as a blueprint for active ageing. Over the recent years, there has also been a slew of new developments in terms of infrastructures, facilities, policies and programmes which bring us closer to the target. Yet, more remains to be done while the ‘silvering’ of our population continues at a rapid pace. The “Many Helping Hands” approach is the way forward for Singapore, as only with a collective effort involving all stakeholders (government, people and private sectors, voluntary welfare organizations, media and academic members) can we stand a better chance of tackling such a sophisticated, diverse and cross-sectoral issue.

(Source: Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports: Committee on Ageing Issues)

(Image source: Teck Ghee Grassroots)

Making eldercare holistic yet affordable

With a growing ‘silver’ population in Singapore, it is substantially necessary for the country to develop its healthcare and eldercare system to meet the demands. In addition, there is a need to not only construct a dense network of community-based services, but also to ensure long-term sustainability in the provision of these services. The blueprint for a holistic and affordable eldercare must also incorporate the concept of ageing-in-place, where seniors can continue residing in the community which they are familiar with. Altogether, the Committee on Ageing Issues (CAI) has proposed 4 key approaches towards achieving this;

Develop support services within the community

In terms of the management of elderly healthcare needs, a holistic Family Physicians (FPs)-centered approach should be adopted. This is because of the close proximity the FPs are to provide primary prevention, maintenance of health and screening of diseases to the elderly in the community. The increasing presence of Community Health Centres (CHCs) also help to supplement the FPs with support services. In addition, there is a need to establish a variety of community-based nursing services for the elderly who would prefer to continue living in the community. Caregiver Centres on the other hand will offer an alternate support to families by providing care for the elderly.

Facilitate integrated service planning and delivery

There are plenty of rooms for improvement in this aspect. Follow-up care for discharged elderly patients can be enhanced via the closer integration between hospital systems and the community. The CAI also believe that the integrated service models of day care and day rehabilitation centres for the elderly must be flexible against market changes in order to be cost-efficient. More importantly, data requirements across all agencies must be streamlined to ensure that medical information is exchangeable between step-down healthcare facilities and community-based elder-care facilities.

Expand diversity and capability development within the health and eldercare sector

With the growing complexity of needs and expectations of the elderly, it is increasingly important to enhance healthcare capabilities and tailor social and personal care services to suit their range of requirements. The CAI is of the belief that in order to spur private sector participation and innovation in health and eldercare, the government should revise its policies and undertake a facilitating role in the industry. Essentially, certain aspects such as manpower and service standards must also be improvised to meet the rising demands of an ageing population.

Ensure affordability of health and eldercare services

This is achieved through a flexible multi-tiered safety net consisting of government subsidy for Class B2 / C wards, Medisave, MediShield, Medifund and ElderShield. As much as 80% of actual medical expenditures at Class B2 and C wards of public hospitals are being subsidized by the government while the remaining schemes provide greater financial protection for the elderly against huge medical bills.

As we can see, the Government’s role goes beyond financing the use of services. It also has an essential role to play with regards to manpower development, regulations and the establishment of standards for the sector. More importantly, it must facilitate the planning and development of the sector in order to achieve a holistic and affordable eldercare for our future seniors.

(Source: Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports: Committee on Ageing Issues, Straits Time)

(Image source: Khoo Chai Ling)

A barrier-free society

An elderly woman boards the bus with relative ease. A good-natured banter then ensued between the bus captain and the elderly woman herself as the journey continues. Visibly delighted, she spoke of her hearty lunch at a food centre nearby. Strangely enough, she was also offering words of encouragement to the captain who is beginning to look a little familiar. Some serious mulling later and it hit me; the driver who appeared on the news for the wrong reason a week ago is now behind the wheel of our bus. Towards the end of the journey, I had the privilege to witness a particularly heartening moment as the elderly lady presented the gratified driver with a token of encouragement.

Emotions aside, I have also come to realize that our accessible environment has given the elderly woman the independence to integrate with the wider community and lead an active live. On the bus, low floor, step-free and access ramp features provide accessibility to the elderly and handicapped persons. Over the past few years, public transport operators such as Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) and Singapore Bus Service (SBS) have been introducing these senior-friendly buses into the roads while Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations have undergone retrofitting regimes to improve accessibility to the elderly.

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