Singapore

101-year-old saved thanks to alarm system

Project Helping Hands successfully installs 500 units of Elderly Monitoring System to help lonely aged. HARIZ BAHARUDIN (harizbah@sph.com.sg) speaks to two beneficiaries

A slipper got caught in her walking stick, causing her to trip and fall hard on her right hip.

Given the intense pain she was in, Madam Choon Keng Chan could hardly move or stand up. The consequences could have been dire for Madam Choon because she lives alone.

But fortunately for the 101-year-old, help came in 30 minutes, even though it was 11pm.

This was all thanks to the Elderly Monitoring System (EMS), which is designed to watch over senior citizens living alone.

The unit was installed in Madam Choon's flat as part of Project Helping Hands. (See report on facing page.)

When the accident happened last month, Madam Choon pressed a button on the EMS device she carries with her.

Madam Doh Tong Kiok, 70, a Lions Befriender, rushed to Madam Choon's one-room Bukit Merah View HDB flat.

Madam Doh, who lives in a nearby block, took about 10 minutes to walk over.

IN PAIN

Madam Doh recalls how Madam Choon was wincing in pain on the floor when she entered the unit.

The elderly woman had left her front door unlocked.

Madam Doh says in Cantonese: "I was scared to see her like that and I knew I had to get help."

She called for an ambulance at once and by 11.45pm, the pair were already at the Singapore General Hospital.

The befriender also made sure that Madam Choon was properly warded before she returned home at 4am.

Madam Choon has since had surgery for her hip fracture. Last week, she was moved to the Bright Vision Hospital in Hougang, where she is undergoing physiotherapy.

When The New Paper on Sunday visited Madam Choon at the hospital last Tuesday, Madam Doh was also there.

"Madam Choon likes it when people visit her," says Madam Doh.

She has visited her three times since the elderly woman was hospitalised.

Madam Choon's physiotherapist, Mr Firdaus Zin, who carries out her daily physiotherapy sessions, says: "Every time I walk past, she asks me to do her exercises. She looks forward to them and wants to be active."

Mr Chris Lim Cher Siong, a befriender executive from Lions Befrienders, says: "Many of these seniors need the care and concern of family but they may not get that. That's where our volunteers go in to support them, because everyone needs friends."

Madam Choo is grateful for the quick response and for the help she received.

"Without (EMS), I don't think I would be alive today. I am happy and thankful," she says with a smile.

System sets his mind at ease

READY: (Top) Mr Poh Gim Seng with his Elderly Monitoring System hand-held device. (Above, left) Mr Poh's flat is the 500th one to be fitted with the system. (Above, right) The sensor will send an SMS alert to a family member, caregiver or a volunteer from Lions Befrienders if it detects long bouts of inactivity in his house. TNP PHOTOS: JEREMY LONG

He has often heard about people his age who die alone at home.

At 70, Mr Poh Gim Seng knows there is a chance he could end up like them.

He says in Mandarin: "I have three daughters but they live far away."

The retired divorcee has been living alone in his Chai Chee Avenue HDB flat for the past 14 years.

Now, Mr Poh can finally set his mind at ease, knowing that help will come if he ever has an accident at home.

Since July 7, his one-room flat has been fitted with an Elderly Monitoring System (EMS), under Project Helping Hands.

His flat is the 500th unit to be fitted with the EMS, which is a step-up from the manual pull-cord alarm system.

It is automated and reduces the likelihood of false alarms being triggered.

Mr Michael Chua, divisional director for Lions Befrienders, says since the project started installing the units two years ago, there have been five alerts activated.

One helped to save a life.

Mr Chua says: "Lots of accidents happen at home, in the bathroom and even at night. This is especially dangerous for old people who are living alone."

Project Helping Hands approached surveillance solutions company Nextan to manufacture and set up 500 wireless motion sensor systems in the flats of senior citizens living alone.

Managing director of Nextan Sean Tan says: "We are glad to be doing this now.

"If we could have installed all these units earlier, we would have."

LIVING ALONE

Among the first to have a unit installed was Mr Neela Kantan, 86, who has been living alone in his one-room flat in Bendemeer Road since 1995.

In 1993, Mr Neela had an accident while installing copper pipes in a flat.

A wall fell on him and broke his left leg, which later got infected. He has gone through many operations.

The retired Mr Neela has a volunteer from Lions Befrienders who visits him at least once a week.

While his condition has improved, he still has trouble walking.

The EMS gives him peace of mind, he says.

"If I fall down or faint, nobody will know because there is no one living with me. With this system, I know that someone will come in time."

Mr Poh is thankful for the EMS.

"If I fall down or faint, nobody will know because there is no one living with me. With this system, I know that someone will come in time."

- Mr Poh Gim Seng, on the Elderly Monitoring System

"I am lucky to get it," he says.

About 
the project

In October 2010, The New Paper partnered the Lions Befrienders Service Association and Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) to launch Project Helping Hands.

The aim was to install motion sensors and alarms in the homes of the elderly who live alone so that help can reach them in an emergency.

The number of elderly people living alone is expected to increase to 83,000 by 2030 - up from 35,000 now, according to the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

The Elderly Monitoring System (EMS), developed by NP teachers and students, tracks a resident's movements and sends an SMS to a family member, caregiver or volunteer from Lions Befrienders, should it detect long bouts of inactivity.

The occupant is also given a hand-held device with a button that he can press to send an alert.

To fully realise the project's aim, Project Helping Hands worked together with TNP readers to raise $1 million for the project.

INSTALL, MAINTAIN

Lions Befrienders' divisional director for befriending services Michael Chua says this money was used to install 500 EMS devices and will cover maintenance costs for the next five years.

Project Helping Hands also appealed for volunteers to adopt seniors living on their own.

On TNP's 25th anniversary in 2013, Project Helping Hands moved into production mode and engaged surveillance solutions company Nextan to make and set up the 500 wireless motion sensor systems in the homes of beneficiaries identified by Lions Befrienders.

Managing director of Nextan Sean Tan says: "This technology will definitely improve care, which is limited by manpower."

Similar to the EMS, the Housing Board (HDB) has been testing another sensor system that alerts caregivers when their elderly charges are in trouble.

The Smart Elderly Monitoring and Alert System (Semas), developed by HDB and four other enterprises, was placed in 12 rental flats from June to November last year.

In March, HDB's chief executive officer Cheong Koon Hean told The Straits Times: "Moving forward, HDB will continue to explore innovative ideas and partner the industry to develop solutions that residents can consider adopting for their HDB flats."

Other companies like OMG Solutions and Elderwise Living are offering similar systems to monitor the elderly.

This month marks the completion of Project Helping Hands, just in time for TNP's 27th birthday today.

Elderly and home alone: What to watch out for

  • Accidents like falls, where brittle bones can lead to fractures or broken limbs
  • Malnutrition from not eating properly or regularly
  • Depression from not having people to talk to, which can even lead to suicide
  • Not going for regular check-ups for conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, which can worsen their health