Elderly Residences + Smart Care
Furoto Lets Seniors Feel at Home
Most elderly people want to continue living in a familiar environment. How can we utilize modern technology to create long-term care programs the elderly can trust and enjoy?
Furoto Lets Seniors Feel at HomeBy Kuang-ying Liu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 619 )
Retired police officer Lee Wen-chin, 94, is agile in both body and mind even at his advanced age. Following him into the Tsuihua public housing complex in which he shares a rented apartment with another elderly person, some people might ask whether it is wise for elderly people to live alone.
Lee recounts that, after his wife passed away three years ago and the housing the police administration provided was reassigned, he found the Tsuihua community via an introduction from the district office. Not a typical apartment complex, Tsuihua is one of several senior citizen homes administered by the Taiwan Physical and Mental Functions Revitalization Exercise Association (TPMA) on behalf of the Kaohsiung City Government’s Bureau of Social Affairs. Tsuihua Garden, located on the ground floor of the complex, is a small, multi-functional service center for elderly people.
Lee walks each day with the aid of a cane to Tsuihua Garden, where he reads the paper and chats with social workers. He either prepares lunch himself, or dines at Tsuihua Garden, and if he needs help with cleaning or other assistance, he can hire a domestic helper. “My son has his own life; I prefer to take care of myself,” says Lee, traces of a regional accent coming through his Mandarin.
Tsai Jin-Duen (蔡錦墩), 65, is the founder of TPMA and the head of the Tsuihua Garden family. Noticing the aging trend across society, he transitioned from the medical instruments field to long-term elderly care, expanding operations from senior homes to daytime care, in-home services, and music care. In addition, he established Furoto Medical & Welfare Co. Ltd., which offers home living space redesign, vocational training, and the most unusual specialty, musical therapy.
In a corner of Tsuihua Garden, over a dozen elderly people suffering from dementia shake out the rhythm on castanets to music played by social worker Lee Mei-chen. The eldest of the group is 101 years old. Tsai introduced the music care program from Japan over a decade ago. Lee Mei-chen relates that simple, familiar simple musical melodies help make elderly patients with dementia more willing to move physically, which also helps increase their sense of accomplishment.
“For the first 10 years, nobody ever heard of Furoto,” says Tsai. As people tend to lump senior citizen businesses in with public welfare groups, very few enterprises become involved. Only with the steep rise in the elderly population over the past several years have Tsai’s efforts attracted attention.
In spite of Furoto’s numerous undertakings, Tsai admits that just breaking even is a major challenge. This is largely because daytime care centers and senior living facilities are government-contracted projects with very clear and definite pricing standards, while musical therapy is a niche market. Tsai has assisted with the training of nearly 2,000 music therapists around Taiwan, yet his businesses have only barely begun to break even over the past several years.
“I’m teetering back and forth between for-profit and non-profit,” Tsai reports with a sigh. Japan’s long-term care industry is able to thrive because legal entities and corporations can invest, encouraging healthy competition.
“Over 90 percent of elderly people would like to live out their lives where they are,” says Tsai. He notes that Furoto is seeking to expand to more locations, with an eye towards becoming the trusted “mom-and-pop shop of long-term care.” Collaborating with builders on a consultancy to create residences suited to the elderly, he has translated years of experience into a commercial opportunity.
Smart Care Platform
At the other end of the city, the Taiwan Stipendiary’s smart building just opened on Kaohsiung’s north side in early March. A multi-functional care center, it offers overnight “respite care” for elderly people under the care of working relatives needing a break, as well as in-home hospice care.
The main investor behind the Taiwan Stipendiary Co., Ltd., to the tune of NT$20 million, is the Sino-Life Group, a Hong Kong-based funeral business. Why is an end-of-life business getting into long-term care? According to Ben Lin (林本源), senior executive vice president of Taiwan Stipendiary, the aging trend is clear across both sides of the Taiwan Strait, and even though elderly care is viewed as a public welfare enterprise, the continued rise in the elderly population will see corresponding growth in the demand for convenient, comfortable old age services.
Taiwan Stipendiary’s roadmap goes beyond daytime care centers to smart care industry platforms. Currently, the four respite care rooms are equipped with a full array of Panasonic home appliances, as well as sensors and Internet of Things amenities to deliver responsive care around the clock, always there but only perceptible when needed. For instance, when an elderly patient gets up, the smart bed alerts the caregiver, and sensors keep track of the patient’s position within the room at all times. Meanwhile, smart appliances gather statistical in formation on the patient’s sleep and bathroom use to further inform care-giving services.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect is that the automatic sensors are entirely developed and made in Taiwan. “The Internet of Things and Big Data have long been Taiwan’s strengths,” says Lin. He relates that his firm hopes to partner with local Taiwanese vendors to promote smart elderly care throughout the group’s existing network of locations in China and Vietnam.
Su Chin is an 80-year-old woman who lives near Taiwan Stipendiary. When her overseas caregiver returned to her home country last year, she was left feeling anxious alone at home. This year she began taking part in daytime care. Now, “I have someone to talk with every day, and it’s so much better than being home alone,” she says.
Getting old and living out one’s life in place is a dream for many elderly people. Yet under the uniform pricing system currently in place at community daytime care centers, motivated and ambitious businesses must find ways to distinguish themselves through diversified operations in order to remain viable and keep moving forward.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman