Latest Ryman news

UC students prompt Ryman residents to be smart walkers

Written by Alan Wood
on April 03, 2023

A group of Essie Summers residents were front and centre in a 1News story talking about their participation in a groundbreaking engineering project on how to increase mobility for older people.

The 1News team, including reporter Katie Stevenson and cameraman Jason Hull, talked to Dawn Richardson, and two other residents Shirley Hol and Carol Thomson, about an engineered ‘couch pole’, which is designed to sit in front of a couch or a chair.

Dawn has been an ongoing participant in the project, which is essentially about how to prevent ‘falls’.

The residents showed how they could lean on the rubber topped poles to help push themselves to a standing position. The three also shared stories about how they’d had falls as older people and that they had been painful, sometimes led to surgery, and had been difficult to recover from.

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Kate Sharples, Ryman Operations Project Coordinator, has worked to help ensure the involvement by Essie Summers residents in the UC group work has run smoothly.

Last year a group of University of Canterbury students, encouraged by Christchurch company Enztec, talked to some Essie Summers residents about designs for the couch pole and new additions for walking frames.

Both engineered solutions are designed to help older people get up from a seated position.

To ensure these added-extras work in the real world the students tapped into the common-sense opinions of Dawn Richardson, Elizabeth Fulton, Jim Maunsell, Patricia Blazey and Kathleen Fitzgerald, who helped test the work.

Enztec and the UC group, including Jackson Crawford, Grace May, Piper Marshall and James McKenna, last year said the main purpose of the mobility designs was to provide a safer environment for residents. Two of the students, Jackson and Grace, now work for Enztec which commercialises ideas like the couch pole and also makes orthopaedic equipment.

Balance for older people can be affected by many thing including vision problems, weakening muscles, and nervous system conditions including Alzheimer’s.

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Enztec Chief Executive Iain McMillan says while Enztec had been growing its traditional surgical instrument business the company recognised the need to help people early on to try and prevent the need for surgery.

“We know how badly older people can be affected by falls and it seemed a logical place for us to carry out research and make a real difference... (so) how do we stop them having a fall, so there are simple little things as they’re beginning to age as they’re getting in and out of chairs that they can mobilise more easily. They all struggle with that sit to stand transition – so how do we make a difference for them, that’s unobtrusive and keeps them independent, and stops them having fall.”

Enztec identified that habits changed over time, and some older people developed bad techniques. “So (we thought) how do we design a product that encourages the patient to do all the good things, putting their nose over their toes, and that also helps them go from a sitting to standing position as they are progressively losing quadricep strength,” Iain says.

Having completed a successful intern project over the summer of 2021/2022, Enztec sponsored a ‘final year’ engineering project.  The team, Jackson, Grace, Piper and James, developed and tested their ideas during the project. The team found the design task not only used engineering skills but also require communications skills to engender trust between themselves and Ryman residents like Dawn.

“We found that older people were struggling to get up, and we wanted to ease the process. Iain likes to call it ageing in place to help them stay mobile for longer,” Grace says.

Separately Ryman has been involved in its own projects to help people remain stable and reduce the number of falls residents have in retirement villages.


About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman was founded in 1984 and has become one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies. The company owns and operates 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia which are home to more than 13,900 residents and the company employs 6,800 team members.

Media advisory: For further information, photos, interviews or comment please contact Group Corporate Affairs Manager Silke Marsh on +64 27 294 3609 or Communications Advisor Maryvonne Gray on 027 552 0767.

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