Remember when the term ‘smarty pants’ was a mild insult? Now, the older generation can actually wear those smart pants and benefit from the technology they boast.
The international healthcare industry has come up with a number of high quality wearable devices aimed at older users. Products such as wearable airbags and fall detection sensors are easy to manage and improve the quality and speed with which care can be provided. Not only do they help with maintaining stability, they can also monitor vital parameters, such as blood pressure.
Until very recently, such devices were unheard of in India primarily due to their prohibitive costs. This has changed, however, with the creation of a new wearable underwear developed a team at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi.
Funded by the Technology Incubation and Development of Entrepreneurs (TIDE) – an Indian government scheme that aims to promote and facilitate technological research – the device aims to safeguard elderly wearers from hip and pelvis injuries.
How Does Smart Underwear Work?
Named the Troguard, the device is worn like traditional underwear and is a combination of plastic foam with a micro-cellular injection and pure cotton. It features a built-in hip protector as well as two thermoplastic pads that cover the greater trochanter portion of the hip – the most common source of hip pain.
Injuries or bruises, usually caused by a fall, are easily prevented as the device disperses the impact to the surrounding tissues, thus protecting the femur. According to Dr Naresh Bhatnagar, a member of the team at IIT Delhi that developed the smart underwear, the product has already been successfully tested at a round of field trails at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). It is under patent and is expected to retail soon, at less than a thousand rupees through online marketplaces.
Age and Technology in India
The development of this wearable undergarment is particularly significant for India, which has long lacked the sort of technology to aid its rapidly ageing population.
“Certain markets, such as [Japan], have a lot of devices for the disabled and elderly. With respect to the Indian markets, while technology has seeped into everyday lives and activities, there are not many life-changing options on offer for this category of the population,” says Himanshu Rath of AgeWell, which works with the United Nations.
Schemes such as TIDE have made it easier for innovators in India to come up with devices for the elderly and disabled. For example, the team at IIT was also able to develop a smart walking stick with a grant from TIDE. This device can send signals to alert caregivers if an elderly person using it falls. It also has a built-in alarm, which can attract the attention of people in the vicinity if a fall or accident occurs.
While devices are now available in India to aid and protect the elderly, Himanshu explained that there may still be barriers to their acceptance.
“Those who are susceptible to injuries are very old and already have low movement in everyday life. Most of them are bed-ridden. People also don’t want to accept that they are unable to take care of themselves,” he said, adding that, “from the point of view of the caretaker, using such a device may imply that he is not taking proper and personal care of the aged person.”
According to Mathew Cherian of HelpAge India, a foundation treating 1.6 million elderly people in India every day, developers must ensure that their devices are user-friendly and adaptable to the everyday needs of the older generation if they are to have any lasting impact.
“We have been part of the design and testing of the product with IIT Delhi. We provided certain feedback after the trial which centred on practical difficulties in the use of the device,” said Mathew.
For example, Mathew addressed the fact that many people in this age group suffer from issues of incontinence and require the use of adult diapers, which could make the undergarment difficult to wear. The product should also be comfortable for both men and women. Finally, there is the issue of personal hygiene – in the case of IIT’s underwear, the two pads can be removed when the garment is washed, making cleaning and maintenance a simple process.
India may still be behind the international market when it comes to technology-based products for the elderly but at least now, there are increased efforts to address this overlooked sector. With budding innovators and entrepreneurs who are supported by a government that’s aware of the challenges facing its people, things are steadily moving forward.