Founders Series: Leaving the Comforts of Retirement to Support Dementia Patients
A very Happy New Year to our dear readers and Irisada community! We’re all excited to embark on a new year with fresh ideas and new goals. To kick-start the year, for the month of January, we are running a series of Founders’ Stories where homegrown entrepreneurs share with us their stories and advice for new social start-ups, care-givers or persons with added needs.
The first in our line-up is Mr. Lee Fatt Leong, CEO of Ascension International. A retired sales and marketing veteran formerly with ST Engineering Land Systems, Fatt Leong discovered an alternative form of therapy with the Wellness Nordic Rocking Chair for dementia and autistic patients. He is passionate about offering this alternative form of therapy to alleviate the daily challenges faced by patients and caregivers.
Can you tell me briefly about yourself and the business ?
I started Ascension Group in 2016 after an old friend approached me with a proposal to distribute a rocking chair from Japan. What intrigued me was that it wasn’t just a common rocking chair, but one with advanced technology that could help calm people who are depressed and anxious, especially for dementia sufferers, autistic adults and children. I was excited to learn of this non-invasive and gentle therapy that could better the lives of dementia sufferers as well as their caregivers.
I researched and found that the facts about dementia are rather alarming: 1 in 10 elderly over the age of 60 were found to be suffering from dementia1. By 2030, the number of elderly with dementia is expected to rise to 80,000 from the last census of 28,000 in 2012. This translates to a cost of S$1.4. billion a year to the country. As of October 2018. Singapore has 88,000 dementia patients with the youngest being only 45 years old. (source: Alzheimer’s Disease Association).
According to Associate Professor Phua Kai Hong of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, there is a lack of professional outpatient care here such as rehabilitation services or care for a patient’s daily needs. Dr Jeremy Lim, a partner in global consulting firm Oliver Wyman, said there is a need to be creative in finding solutions. This includes changing the subsidy model to recognise the high social costs and give more subsidies in areas such as transport and elderly-friendly infrastructure for homes. I set up my business to support caregivers.
What is your role in the business?
I juggle multiple roles in business development, sales & marketing as well as finance. It has been a challenging journey given that the product is new in Singapore and requires more available touch-points to bring about greater awareness. On a micro level, I am working with caregivers to introduce the rocking chair therapy for their loved ones in their care.. In 2019, we plan to conduct talks and road-shows at elderly activity centres, voluntary welfare organizations (VWOs) for the elderly, nursing homes, day-care and, community centres, etc to continue to grow the awareness of the rocking chair therapy.
Tell us about your product
The chair fits into any corner or home easily, with its’ subtle aesthetics and added feature of having fitted speakers playing music, patients can be easily coaxed into it for therapy sessions. The chair offers three automatic programmes which can be applied to the patients in stages, it can be set to the exact position the user requires and provides incredible comfort. It provides a low vibration in the lower back which creates a comfortable tactile stimulation.
The 2 built-in speakers in the backrest supplies a specially curated music with a documented effect that calms the patient and creates a positive experience. The music was composed by Danish Composer, Niels Eje. The music created is based on more than 12 years of research and development into the calming, de-stressing and mentally stimulating effect of this specially designed music. “Music for mental stimulation” is a specially developed album for treating dementia which has been prepared for the Danish Alzheimer’s Association. In a 2-year study featured in “American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias” (AJA), participants aged between 72 and 95 years old were found to be less anxious, less depressed and more balanced after receiving therapy from the chair. Ola Polme, a lecturer on dementia care and formerly a nurse at psychiatric units and dementia nursing reported that care staff found that 20 minutes of rocking chair therapy corresponds to 5mg of Sobril.
What kind of social impact does your business create?
Our business aims to introduce the Nordic Wellness Rocking Chair as an affordable and non-pharmacological approach therapy to all hospitals, nursing homes, day-care centres as well as individual households. We want every dementia patient to have the basic and affordable right of access to this form of therapy. Through consistent therapy, the quality of life improves for them as well as their caregivers. This is the social impact we want to create, to see marked improvement in living as well as they can be.
What is your vision in 3 years for the community?
We envision rocking chair therapy centres in malls, community centres, hospitals where patients are able to book appointments for the therapies and customise the therapies based on their doctors’ recommendations. We aim for the centres to be a source of meaningful employment for the senior community as well as a venue where peer-to-peer sharing, motivational talks on health, graceful aging and caregiving tips are held.
Any words of encouragement for caregivers and or retirees in terms of getting back to work?
I want caregivers to know that they are always my heroes and I have the deepest respect for them – for their commitment and selfless love caring for their loved ones. The sacrifices that carers make know no bounds, they make life better, and more meaningful for their loved ones.
For the retirees, find a cause that you’re passionate about then dedicate yourself fully. When you help others, your life is enriched in many intangible ways. As for the healthcare business that we are in, we welcome them to join us as volunteers- it could be as a befriender to the dementia or autistic patients, or to provide their professional expertise as advisors, organisers, etc in our company.
What would you advise other founders and startups who want to go into this challenging space?
In our business, it’s not purely about monetary gains. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and passion; you must have that burning desire to help the community that you serve. It can be a long and winding road and we may not see profits initially, but the joy and satisfaction to see lives being improved and the testimonies that we receive from patients who have tried our chair, now THAT, makes it all worth it.
Run the business with dedication, integrity and stand firm with your values. When you run into challenges or feel tempted to throw in the towel, go back to the core reason why you started this business. Don’t quit, just find another solution. Sometimes, our ideas may be ahead of time, hold on to it and the time will come.
- Base on a study on the Wellbeing of the Singapore Elderly (WiSE) conducted by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). Started in 2015, the study involved 5,000 patients and their caregivers over a period of 3 years.