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Transforming Elderly Care: NUS Initiatives in Health and Longevity

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The National University of Singapore (NUS) is at the forefront of initiatives aimed at improving the quality of life and health services for the elderly through research, using cutting-edge technology, data, and analytics to drive significant advancements. These efforts are receiving a substantial boost from a philanthropic gift that will fund research under the Health District @ Queenstown (HD@QT), a comprehensive initiative designed to enhance the well-being of seniors.

Image credits: National University of Singapore

HD@QT is a multi-stakeholder, whole-of-society endeavour spearheaded by NUS, the National University Health System, and the Housing & Development Board. The initiative aims to increase healthy longevity, promote intergenerational bonding, and support a community for all ages.

The first recipients of the funding will support three pioneering projects focused on mental, social, and economic well-being:

Intergenerational Mental and Social Health Programme: This project, led by Assistant Professor Cyrus Ho, aims to address the psychological and emotional factors contributing to mental resilience in individuals across various life stages, including adolescents, adults in the sandwich generation, and older adults.

The effectiveness of these activities will be assessed to develop interventions that improve mental and social health by targeting psycho-social behaviour, lifestyle, help-seeking behaviour, and economic assessment.

Study on Malay Female Caregivers: Led by Associate Professor Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman, this pilot study seeks to understand the challenges and needs of Malay female caregivers from low-income families who are part of the sandwich generation.

Impact of Labour Market Engagement on Retirees: Assistant Professor Shan Xiaoyue, along with Professor Uri Gneezy, will investigate how part-time work affects the socioeconomic, physical, and mental well-being of retirees. Participants will be provided with part-time work at different intensities, and their well-being will be monitored across various dimensions such as physical health, mental health, cognition, sleep quality, happiness, quality of relationships, and financial security.

In addition to the initiatives under HD@QT, NUS linguists have made a breakthrough in detecting early linguistic signs of dementia by studying the natural speech of seniors. This study, led by Professor Bao Zhiming from the Department of English, Linguistics, and Theatre Studies, revealed that individuals with memory-related mild cognitive impairment (MCI) exhibit specific speech patterns, such as speaking less and using fewer, but more abstract, nouns.

These patterns are consistent with those seen in Alzheimer’s patients. Conducted in collaboration with the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, the research underscores the potential of natural speech analysis as a reliable, non-invasive, and cost-effective tool for early dementia diagnosis.

The study involved 148 elderly Singaporeans in their 60s and 70s, half of whom were cognitively healthy while the other half had MCI. Participants were asked to speak about any topic for 20 minutes, and their speech was recorded, transcribed, and analysed.

The findings showed that those with amnestic MCI, which affects memory, produced fewer and more abstract nouns compared to those with non-amnestic MCI and healthy individuals. This discovery could pave the way for early diagnosis and intervention strategies for dementia.

These initiatives highlight NUS’s commitment to leveraging technology and data analytics to promote healthy ageing and improve the quality of life for the elderly. By developing scalable and sustainable interventions and exploring innovative diagnostic tools, NUS aims to create a supportive environment for seniors, ensuring they live healthier and more fulfilling lives.

The collective efforts at HD@QT and the groundbreaking linguistic research represent significant steps toward achieving these goals, benefiting not only the elderly population but also the broader community in Singapore.

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