New Delhi, Aug 20 (PTI) A knee and hip replacement surgery within a span of a few years left 58-year-old Meerabai immobile and dreading that she would miss her son's wedding.
However, a swivel seat mechanism installed in her car not only ensured that she could be part of her son's big day but also enabled her to travel with ease.
'I didn't have to go anywhere, they came and installed it in my car. It is working very nicely, I can easily get into the car and go anywhere I need to, including the hospital,' the Coimbatore-based retired professor told PTI over a phone call.
The car swivel mechanism, TurnPlus, was developed by Bengaluru-based engineer Anand Kutre in 2017. It allows a car seat to swivel out 90 degrees so that a passenger with mobility issues can sit easily before it's turned back.
According to experts, assistive technology and devices like TurnPlus can allow senior citizens to live longer, better and more dignified lives without having to ask for help.
Monimita Sarkar of Unmukt, a Delhi-based platform for stakeholders in senior care, said the growing number of nuclear families and gradual disintegration of family-based care systems have pushed the need for assistive technology.
'Now more people are living alone as they age. And even with retirement homes, they really like to live in their own houses. So if people really need to make do with what they have in their homes today and live the best lives, we need to see that they have the ability through assistive technology,' Sarkar told PTI.
At a recent webinar organised by Unmukt, a number of startups showcased their innovations, including Flexmotiv's self-standing crutch, 'FlexMoCrutch', and BeAble Health's 'Armable', an arm-training device specially designed for neuro and motor rehabilitation of stroke victims.
When Kutre, 43, launched TurnPlus, he wanted to do something for people with disabilities since the Indian market only looked at wheelchairs and crutches as mobility options.
The product caught on and new use cases were found among people in their sunset years. Meerabai is one of the 110 people who have so far had the swivel seat system installed in their cars.
'While there are such options available in the West, this type of technology is not readily available in India when it comes to mobility solutions. All you see are wheelchairs and crutches, people don't go beyond that. If you have to do anything like this, you have to rely on your local garage for modification which is not safe,' Kutre said.
He said he is also in talks with cab aggregator Uber, which launched wheelchair-accessible services not too long ago, for equipping its fleet with TurnPlus.
'We also plan to launch a powered version of TurnPlus, that is TurnPlus Elevate, which would swivel around and come down in case of bigger cars. Portable ramps and hoist mechanisms at home are also in the pipeline,' he said.
Assistive technology does not have to be a complex machine, it can be something as simple as a mobile application which allows users to keep all their medical documents in one place, add measurements of their vitals, and call for help in case of an emergency.
Rajib Das, founder of Evexius, a home health solution provider, explains how a simple mobile application can ensure senior citizens lead a better life.
'We have created an entire ecosystem around senior healthcare keeping emergency situations in mind. Our caregivers keep all the medical records, history, vitals in a mobile application.
'On a regular day, it helps us and their doctors to create customised healthcare plans. But in an emergency situation they (senior citizens) can send an SOS alert and we will automatically know their Google location. We can then call the nearest ambulance and take them to the hospital of their choice,' Das said.
Going a step beyond soft technology solutions, Colonel A Sridharan, founder of CovaiCare retirement community housing, is experimenting with motion-sensing technology.
'A senior citizen living alone may need to use the toilet at night. There can't be CCTVs (in toilets) for privacy reasons, but a motion sensor can detect if he or she doesn't return to bed in some time and alert the security,' the 71-year-old Army veteran said.
Similarly, sensors can detect if a senior citizen falls off the bed, if the door of the house is opened at an odd hour. In case of dementia, a person may wander out in the middle of the night and sit on a bench in the housing society, even then the sensor would alert the security.
Located in four cities -- Coimbatore, Bengaluru, Puducherry, and Mysuru -- Sridharan's retirement communities house around 2,000 seniors citizens at present.
However, the cost of assistive technology devices remains a prohibitive factor for its proliferation.
While Kutre's TurnPlus costs around Rs 50,000, a fully automated wheelchair in India would cost over one lakh rupees and living with assistive care even more.
For mobility and assistive solutions to become more affordable and mass produced, Kutre said the government should intervene at different stages.
'There should be government intervention in terms of infrastructure and to provide organisations like us certain subsidies or some sort of platform so that we can get more such products out in the market.
'Selling them also becomes a challenge since we need to adopt a retail chain and the cost will go very high and affordability becomes a challenge. So if the government intervenes in these aspects it would definitely help us,' he said.
World Senior Citizen's Day will be celebrated on Friday. PTI MAH DIV DIV