When Dr Tan Yeow Kee heard about an elderly woman who fell in her bathroom and waited three days to be discovered, he felt compelled to find a solution.
"To survive, she had to drink water out of the toilet bowl," said Dr Tan, who met the woman while involved in a community project.
Her story spurred him to conceptualise the SoundEye Ark device in 2013 - a monitoring system that detects loud screams and cries.
His is one of a growing number of start-ups here focused on developing products for the elderly.
As their numbers grow, seniors are quickly becoming a demographic to be reckoned with, not just in Singapore but also across the region. Asia-Pacific is home to over half of the world's population of older persons, defined as those aged 60 years or older, according to United Nations statistics. This also means a rising demand for healthcare and eldercare products and services.
Besides detecting emergencies, SoundEye Ark can also send alerts to relatives or loved ones through their mobile devices.
Dr Tan started his project as a researcher at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and has since left to become full-time chief executive officer of SoundEye.
The product development process took more than two years and was supported by A*Star funding as well as industry partners.
"During the four-month pilot study where the device was deployed at the homes of a handful of elderly living alone in various parts of Singapore, I carried two mobile phones everywhere with me and was on standby for nearly 24 hours, just in case a real emergency occurred," said Dr Tan.
The company intends to launch a crowdfunding campaign in October to fund its expansion plans locally and abroad. The device will be available for purchase during the campaign, each priced at less than US$100 (S$135).
Though originally developed as an emergency monitoring system for eldercare, SoundEye Ark has capabilities beyond that, said Dr Tan. "We will be marketing it as an Internet of Things sensor that can be used for elderly monitoring, home security and detecting babies' cries," he added.
Another start-up developing products for the elderly is Neeuro, a brain training company. Its Neeuro SenzeBand is worn around the head and can detect brainwaves, allowing the wearer to control his brain activity to play games designed to improve memory, attention span, spatial skills and various other cognitive functions.
Dr Alvin Chan, the company's chief executive officer and one of three co-founders, said having relatives who suffer from dementia prompted the founders' search for solutions to reduce or slow down cognitive decline.
"A key challenge that Neeuro faces is with raising the awareness that brain fitness is just as important as physical fitness. We need to keep our brains active to ensure that it stays healthy and well," said Dr Chan, previously a research scientist with DSO National Laboratories. He founded the company with Mr Eddie Chau and Mr Kelly Choo.
The Neeuro Senzeband is already available for purchase online, and will be delivered to customers by the third quarter.
Yet another company targeting the ageing demographic is Maxerence, which has developed a product called Pillpresso. This is a pill dispenser that helps senior citizens manage their medication regimes. When it is time to take medication, an alarm sounds and the device can dispense pills at the touch of a button. Medication can also be dispensed in advance into a pillbox for those on the go.
The firm's co-founders first came together last August during a three-month-long accelerator programme organised by NUS Enterprise. Called Modern Aging, the programme aimed to create new businesses addressing the needs of the elderly.
The company is exploring collaborations with several national hospitals to test-bed its prototype with suitable geriatric patients, said co-founder Jason Feng.
It is working on producing a functional Pillpresso prototype by the end of this year, with a full product launch slated for 2019.
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This article was first published on July 14, 2016.
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