Road safety training for the elderly

Road safety training for the elderly

SINGAPORE - An elderly person walks along a zebra crossing, just as a car screeches to a halt to avert an accident.

Such a scenario plays out every day at busy traffic junctions, resulting in potential danger to the elderly. But some seniors can soon learn how to safely cross roads, among other scenarios, at St Andrew's Community Hospital.

Singapore Polytechnic has partnered the Agency of Integrated Care and Temasek Cares to come up with a floor projection system at the hospital that trains the elderly on road safety.

The project comes amid a worrying trend of rising road casualties involving the elderly. In the first six months of this year, 102 elderly pedestrians died or were injured, police told The Sunday Times. Last year, the number of casualties who were elderly rose 13 per cent to 226, from 200 in 2011.

The statistic on elderly pedestrian fatalities is just as grim. Of the 44 pedestrian fatalities reported last year, more than half were above 60 years old.

A police spokesman said some of the top causes of accidents involving the elderly are jaywalking, failure to obey traffic signals and failure to use pedestrian crossings.

Mr Heng Chee How, Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, said earlier this year that senior citizens are more vulnerable on the roads due to their age and slower reflexes.

Hence, the project seeks to help the aged improve their gait, strengthen their limbs and regain their sense of balance.

For example, the pilot scheme at St Andrew's will have an image of a traffic crossing projected onto a floor for an elderly person to manoeuvre and practise with a therapist. It targets mainly elderly persons who are at high risk of suffering from falls or who have a history of stroke and arthritis, which impairs their balance or lower limbs.

Sensors attached to an ankle, a knee and a hip of an elderly person will enable the therapist to note the time he takes to get on his feet after sitting, his reaction time as he starts to cross the road at a traffic junction or zebra crossing, and the time he takes to make his way across.

They also allow the therapist to discern if the amount of weight the person is placing on each leg is appropriate. With the information, limb or other types of exercises are then designed for the elderly, if necessary.

Therapist Charity Chu from St Andrew's said many of her elderly patients lack the confidence to venture outdoors.

"They are stressed out by the blinking traffic lights which remind them that they need to walk faster, by MRT doors which close quickly or hawker centres where they have to jostle with the crowd," she said.

To help boost their confidence, she takes them out to use public transport or cross roads for practice.

With the new system, which will begin its pilot run early next year, her patients can practise and exercise in a safe indoor environment before heading out. Temasek Cares will fund the project to the tune of $182,000 over three years, and an evaluation will be done after one year.

If successful, it may be rolled out in other hospitals, nursing homes or day rehabilitation centres.

"With such real-life practice, the elderly will be less dependent on their children and dare to leave their homes to run daily errands," said Ms Chu.

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