Entrepreneur and inventor Takeji Ueda.

Okayama prefecture, in western Japan, is famed as the powerhouse of Japanese denim.

A centuries-long history of textile making and dyeing – and a few serendipitous events, including the decision of one manufacturer to shift from school uniforms to American-style attire – ensured jeans became big in Japan from the 50s onwards.

And this heritage helped to inspire inventor Takeji Ueda in developing his first product for people with mobility difficulties in 2012. Takeji’s father was suffering with the worsening effects of bone cancer at the time and his mother was struggling to look after him.

Meanwhile, their hometown of Sendai had just been ravaged by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

The family moved south west to Okayama. Takeji, who has a PhD in physics and was working for a microchip manufacturer, wanted to develop a product to help his parents. Inspired partly by Okayama’s denim-clad history, his first creation was conceived.

He says: “I thought my family should move to the west side of Japan to be safe, while I stayed working in the north and later moved to the US for work.

“I noticed my father was gradually getting worse and so eventually I quit my job, moved to Okayama and started my new company. I was still working in the high-tech industry but simultaneously wanted to do something for my parents.”

He set himself the challenge of making it easier for his mother to transfer his dad in and out of chairs and wheelchairs.

“I noticed robotics and harness equipment were too large and expensive. Japanese homes tend to be very small, while my mother does not like using machinery or electronics.

“I thought about devising a product that did not involve machinery. My father’s bones were very fragile and he required a hip protector. But hip protectors are not particularly comfortable and are unattractive.

“I believe that if people are comfortable and wearing something that looks like conventional clothing, they will feel happier.”

Firstly he developed ‘Plus-pad jeans’, for anyone with a heightened risk of trips and falls – and related bone fractures.

To the untrained eye, they look like a conventional pair of casuals. But the product is actually a hip protector disguised in Okayama denim, produced in the jeans hotspot of Kojima city.

Hidden internally are 6mm-thick shock absorption pads which soften with body temperature for comfort and are removeable.

They reduce the shock of falls to a tenth of the level felt without the product, its creator says.

Also in Takeji’s stable, and forged by Okayama’s denim masters, are his ‘Lift-assist’ jeans.

The key additions here are two transfer-aid handles’; straps on either side, running from the hip down the outer side of each thigh.

These are designed to enable family and professional carers to transfer wearers, for example, from a wheelchair into a car.

Both products, sold through Takeji’s firm Action for UNiversal Design (AUN), have proven popular in Japan, a nation where older people are particularly active.

At 85.77 years, Japan’s average life expectancy is second only to that of the super-rich playground Monaco (89.32).

A gentleman models a pair of Plus-pad jeans.

Its ageing population, meanwhile, is growing faster than that of any other nation.

AUN’s flagship product today is ‘Lifty’, which is billed as a simple and effective transfer aid shaped by “biomechanical analysis”.

The device enables the manual transfer of a patient without risking lower back pain for the carer.

It also reportedly prevents falling risk generally, of both the carer and patient.

The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare revised guidelines in 2013, stating that care providers must take countermeasures using “welfare tools” such as hoists to prevent lower back pain among carers. The advice, says Takeji, is not always followed.

“The guideline is still not adhered to sufficiently at nursing homes and hospitals – perhaps because the hoists, mechanical standing aids and robots tend to be large and expensive.

Also, operational time takes longer than with manual handling.

Takeji’s AUN shop in Kurashiki, Japan.

“Lifty uses the principle of leverage and requires no muscular force or twisting motion to move the patient, reducing the risk of lower back pain.”

Lifty comprises pads which cushion the user’s lower back and buttocks while they sit in a wheelchair, conventional seat or perhaps in a vehicle.

Using the protruding straps and support provided via the optional knee strap, the carer is able to manoeuvre the individual appropriately.

When the patient leans forward in their seated position, the pulling force required is reduced through the principle of leverage.

Grasping handles, meanwhile, is believed to be more effective than holding the individual’s centre of mass.

According to Takeji’s own research, when a patient is able to lean forward, the carer can lift a person twice their own weight with minimal effort.

When they cannot lean forward, the carer can move someone equal to their own weight.

“I invented this for the home but professionals in Japan are now using it too as it solves one of the problems of nursing care experienced all over the world.

“Using the basics of physics, we are completing the task which normally requires a machine or harness, without electricity or heavy metal parts.”

Takeji insists that using the product is entirely safe – as long as carers follow the official training videos and instructions.

Currently, two Japanese universities are conducting trials for academic papers, due to be published soon.

The Lifty product.

In the meantime, Takeji is hoping to take it beyond Japan into Europe, the rest of Asia and the US, and has been busy at various trade shows.

In the UK, he is hoping to appoint a distributor.

To date it has been particularly popular with occupational and physical therapists plus – unexpectedly – dentists, in transferring disabled people into the dreaded dentist’s chair.

“We believe Lifty is different from other nursing care equipment in that it doesn’t require attachment to the person or a complicated operational process. It’s easy, washable and has anti-slip properties.”

For more information email info@ energyfront.jp or visit: http://www.aun.blue/en.


 

Lifty in action

“When a patient is able to lean forward, the carer can lift a person twice their own weight with minimal effort. When they cannot lean forward, the carer can move someone equal to their own weight”