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Projects target problems of the elderly

  Tuesday, 03 l 05 l 2011  Source:  The Straits Times   
By: Feng Zengkun

They aim to hasten recovery, help those with bad eyesight avoid accidents ONE project helps to speed up recovery from injuries, and another zooms in on those with poor eyesight. Researchers at Nanyang Polytechnic and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have come up with inventions to target these problems, which affect many elderly people here. Singapore is ageing and it is estimated that by 2030, one in five Singaporeans will be 65 and older.

The two projects received funding from the National Research Foundation in its latest round of translational research and development grants. These are given to researchers to find practical uses for their inventions in their clinical studies. Nanyang Polytechnic’s Dr Edwin Foo, 43, who received $243,000 for his project, said it improves rehabilitation programmes. It uses wireless sensors placed on a patient’s body to track his movements and recovery progress during rehabilitation. Using data from the sensors, therapists can tell which exercises are most helpful and eliminate those that no longer have an effect. The system is also portable and frees patients from having to make appointments at rehabilitation centres.

Dr Foo said patients can work on recovery exercises in their hospital wards, and possibly in their own homes in the future. He expects the system to be available in hospitals in two years. Separately, researchers at NUS have come up with a system that helps people with poor eye sight. It acts as a warning system and route guide.  Last year, 55 pedestrians died in road accidents. Half of them were 60 and older, and most of these elderly people had been jaywalking. The researchers hope to reduce this figure.

NUS professors Andrew Nee and Patricia Ong, who are the project leaders, said the system can also prevent elderly people with poor memory or eyesight from becoming lost or disoriented. Professor Ong, 42, said: “We’ve created a prototype and we’re applying for funding from various sources.” The team plans to reduce the size and cost of the components. They said it was too early to tell when a commercial product might be ready, but added that it would cost less than $100. But they noted that such a product would most likely need government assistance, since one component has to be installed in cars here, possibly in the in-vehicle unit, currently used for CashCards. Since 2009, 21 projects have been given grants of up to $500,000 from the National Research Foundation, including this latest batch.


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