- The easy-to-wear handmade garment keeps bedridden or disabled elderly warm, while enabling carers to monitor their condition.
- The team’s innovative design won the Most Creative Award at the HSBC Hong Kong Community Partnership Programme 2019’s Smart Community Hackathon.
Hong Kong’s care homes for the elderly are facing a severe staff shortage, even as the city’s population ages rapidly. By 2036, the elderly will make up about one-third of the entire population.
A group of 10 students from ELCHK Lutheran Academy had long been aware of the plight of the elderly, but like most of their peers in Hong Kong, such social issues did not seem to matter much to them.
It took a visit to a nursing home in Yuen Long early last year for the students to change their perceptions. They left determined to help improve the well-being of the residents there, while easing the caretakers’ workload.
Their first labour of love is an invention called the Heat Heart Hoodie, an easy-to-wear handmade garment. The brains behind the project are Angus Cheung, Horace Ho Shing-hei, Lilith Kwong Hiu-lam, Lucine Ho Tsz-ying, Thomas Wong Kai-to, Tommy Tse Kwan-yeung, Lukas Lum, Liam Lum, Heron Ng Hou-hei, and Koey Cheung Ho-yi.
The garment keeps the bedridden and disabled warm, monitors their body temperature, and alerts staff when the wearer has been resting in the same position for too long.
Last December, the team’s innovative design won the Most Creative Award at the HSBC Hong Kong Community Partnership Programme 2019’s Smart Community Hackathon. This is a secondary student contest that encourages young people to improve community health using their Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) knowledge.
“We designed the Heat Heart Hoodie because we wanted to make the lives of elderly, especially those who are bed-bound or chair-bound in nursing homes, more comfortable,” Lucine, 15, told Young Post.
A total of five small detachable pads – with fast, medium, or slow-heating options – can be installed in the hoodie to “warm up body parts prone to heat loss, such as shoulders, upper arms and chest”, said Horace, 17. To prevent overheating, heat sensors – connected to an Arduino mic-controller – have been installed to monitor users’ temperature.
When seniors sit or lie in the same spot for too long, they may develop chronic pain or skin problems, or both. However, it is difficult for carers to check on every patient, especially as most nursing homes are understaffed. But the young students tackled the problem by adding pressure sensors at the back of the hoodie.
“The sensors detect how long the user has been inactive. These data – collected by the Arduino chips – will be instantly uploaded to our [Online Heat Heart Monitoring System] server via Wi-Fi,” Horace explained. “When the inactivity lasts for too long, the administrators/caretakers will receive an alert from our website reminding them to move the wearer,” he added. The user’s temperature record, including the latest reading, is also available on the platform.
“It is impossible for nursing home staff to care for every resident at all times. But we hope our website can help the carers monitor many people at one time, and make their workload more manageable,” said Lucine.
Another special feature of the hoodie is its detachable sleeves. “The sleeves can be added to the hoodie with press studs without effort – to make it easier for carers to dress or undress the elderly [who have difficulty] changing or moving,” said Tommy, 16.
The year-long project has made both Lucine and Horace realise the importance of doing primary research, as opposed to just googling things online. “The social problems [mentioned in our textbooks] feel a lot more real after we met and chatted to a few carers at the home for the elderly,” said Horace.
With an eye to making their product accessible to the wider community, the ELCHK students are now working towards improving user experience. This includes increasing clothing comfort by reducing the size of the attached hardware and transforming their website into an app.
They hope their Heat Heart Hoodie, as its name suggests, will remind Hongkongers to rebuild their connections with – and take better care of – their elderly relatives, as well as other members of society.