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LCQ5: Encouraging the application of gerontechnology among the elderly
     Following is a question by the Hon Luk Chung-hung and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Chris Sun, in the Legislative Council today (November 23):


     To promote gerontechnology, the Government set up the Innovation and Technology Fund for Application in Elderly and Rehabilitation Care (the Fund) in December 2018 to subsidise eligible elderly and rehabilitation service units to procure, rent and try out technology products. Quite a number of elderly people have indicated their hope to improve the quality of life and promote personal health through gerontechnology products for achieving ageing in place. Nevertheless, it is learnt that some elderly people can hardly afford the cost of such products, or lack "digital confidence" as they do not quite grasp information technology (IT) skills, thus affecting the further popularisation of gerontechnology. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has conducted a study on the popularisation of gerontechnology; if so, of the following information: (i) the number and age distribution of persons using the relevant products, (ii) the number of subsidised and non-subsidised residential care homes for the elderly applying gerontechnology, (iii) the quantities and types of products sold and rented out, and (iv) the sales volume of the products; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) of the measures in place to further encourage the application of gerontechnology among the elderly; whether it will consider introducing gerontechnology vouchers under the Fund for which individuals can apply, so that the elderly can choose and purchase on their own suitable gerontechnology products for use at home; and

(3) whether it will consider allocating additional resources at the community level and inviting local organisations to assist the Government in carrying out work on the popularisation of IT, thereby enabling the elderly to build up digital confidence; if so, of the implementation timetable; if not, the reasons for that?



     In consultation with the Innovation, Technology and Industry Bureau, my consolidated reply is as follows:

(1) In December 2018, the Government allocated $1 billion to set up the Innovation and Technology Fund for Application in Elderly and Rehabilitation Care (I&T Fund), which subsidises eligible elderly and rehabilitation service units to procure, rent or try out technology products, with a view to improving the quality of life of service users and reducing the burden and pressure on care staff and carers. The Government has since September 2022 expanded the application eligibility of the I&T Fund to 427 private or self-financing residential care homes for the elderly and for persons with disabilities, bringing the number of service units which can benefit from the I&T Fund to 2 200.

     Thus far, seven tranches of grants totalling over $470 million have been approved, subsidising about 1 500 elderly and rehabilitation service units to procure or rent over 12 000 technology products. The types of products that more service units applied for include ultra-low hospital bed, equipment and assessment tools for occupational therapy/physiotherapy/speech therapy, tilt-in-space/height adjustable shower chair, companion robot, smart anti-wandering system. Both users and staff of the service units can benefit from these assistive technology products.

     The Social Welfare Department (SWD) does not maintain the figures on the number and age distribution of the users of the relevant technology products.

(2) The SWD has earmarked resources to expand the coverage of Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly to rental of assistive technology products in the third quarter of 2023, in order to meet the different needs of frail elderly persons ageing in place, enhance their quality of life and reduce the burden on their carers. The number of beneficiaries will also gradually increase from 8 000 at present to 12 000 in 2025-26. It is understood that some of the more popular products in the market include hospital bed, wheelchair and mobility walker with special functions, armrest, shower chair. The SWD will consider adding suitable technology products to the rentable list having regard to the needs of the elderly and will announce the details in due course.

(3) Over the years, the Government has been proactively promoting digital inclusion and assisting the elderly to learn and adopt digital technology products and services.

     Since 2014, the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) has launched the ICT Outreach Programme for the Elderly to subsidise non-profit making organisations and their service networks, such as the elderly living in residential care homes, receiving day care and home care services, and organise activities for these elderly to experience digital living. Service providers introduce technology elements in their activities, such as playing digital technology tutorial video clips through smart robots and using drones to conduct virtual community tours for the elderly, to allow them experience the joy of digital technology. As of September 2022, around 22 300 elderly persons were benefitted.

     Since end-2021, mobile outreach service stations have been set up under the Outreach Programme on a pilot basis at various community locations frequented by the elderly, such as vicinity of housing estates, shopping malls and parks. The Outreach Programme serves to proactively assist elderly persons in districts to use smart phones and common mobile applications, and answer their enquiries, with a view to encouraging them to use digital technology in their daily lives.

     Since 2019, the OGCIO, in collaboration with the Elder Academies in various districts, has launched the Enriched ICT Training Programme for the Elderly. Over 100 free digital training courses are provided to the elderly with basic knowledge on digital technology. The content covers digital government services, online shopping, mobile payment, use of popular government applications like "iAM Smart", "LeaveHomeSafe" and Hong Kong Health Code. The Training Programme also teaches elderly persons to learn and use gerontechnology products, including digital brain-training games, companion robots. As of September 2022, more than 4 800 elderly persons have joined the Training Programme.

     In addition, as of October 2022, the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund (SIE Fund) has funded a total of 438 projects, among which more than 50 projects make use of technology to improve the elderly's quality of life, benefiting over 14 000 elderly persons. Examples include the research and development of a rapid testing kit for early detection of pneumonia of the elderly, the development of an upper limb robotic exoskeleton system to strengthen rehabilitation training of stroke patients at home, and the establishment of an online soft meal ordering and delivery platform, all of which encourage the elderly to integrate into the community.

     In October 2021, the SIE Fund funded four innovative projects, which promote inter-generational digital inclusion and enable youths to assist the elderly in learning and using digital technology. The four projects include digital outreach rehabilitation services, teaching the elderly the basic operations of tablet computers or smartphones, as well as the operation of mobile applications. The four projects are expected to benefit more than 3 700 elderly persons and about 450 youths.
Ends/Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Issued at HKT 12:36
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