Hong Kong's senior citizens get new generation of 'safety phones' enabled with technology to track their locations

With the push of a button on mobile phones especially designed for the elderly, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong's senior citizens have found emergency help for their medical needs, counselling support, and other care services for almost a decade.

Earlier this month, Senior Citizen Home Safety Association launched the third generation of its "safety phone" device, which has been popular among the elderly for nine years.

Using "location-based" technology, the NGO will be able to monitor and call its elderly service recipients, and their family members or carers if necessary, if they have not used their phones for more than a day.

"In an ageing society where a third of our citizens will soon be above the age of 65, we need to reimagine the care we offer them," Maura Wong, CEO of the association, said.

"This new feature will allow us to check on the elderly, to see if anything has gone wrong and why haven't they left their homes or used their phones to call someone for a few days."

Last year, 80,000 elderly users made 700,000 calls, or 2,000 calls a day on average, to the NGO. About 100 calls were received every day with requests for an ambulance.

The phone, costing HK$188 (S$33) per month, has a traditional flip-open design with numbers on a keyboard rather than a touch screen, and extra large words on the screen.

NGO chairwoman Christine Fang Meng-sang said her organisation had evolved with the times and expanded to include a round-the-clock hotline service, with a team of nurses, counsellors and social workers providing help over the phone, ranging from making appointments at public clinics, giving personal health care tips and guidance to make sure they take their pills on time, and giving counselling support to those feeling lonely and socially isolated.

"We want to be the guardian angels of the elderly. And it's not just about saving lives, it's also about preventing them from possible health hazards and improving their quality of life," Fang said.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.