Temasek Foundation and Lions Befrienders (LB) today announced a collaboration to test-bed the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in enhancing the mental wellbeing of seniors. Over two years, the Temasek Foundation Facial Analysis Correlation of Emotions (F.A.C.E) programme will explore facial emotion analysis technology as a supplementary tool to virtual counselling, through provision and analysis of non-verbal data from facial expressions. The programme seeks to demonstrate the promise of the latest technology in improving traditional mental health screening and care planning for seniors, to enable timely intervention to arrest or reverse mental declines. Temasek Foundation has committed more than $190,000 to support this programme.

To establish proof-of-concept, LB will reach out to more than 4,300 seniors islandwide, its 10 centres (5 Active Aging Centres and 5 Senior Activity Centres) and at community events, to participate in AI-aided counselling sessions and screenings for care planning. Using a standard webcam or video source, the AI technology measures and analyses facial expressions of participating seniors using proprietary computer vision algorithms and machine learning techniques. It tracks the head and facial features responsible for expressions and maps them in real time to related emotional attributes. As such, the AI technology enables the emotional state of the seniors to be more precisely captured and expressed in finer granularity than traditional visual examination by counsellors. The counsellor can then be assisted with more detailed insights from subtle facial signals and small variations of the person’s affective state, as well as other non-verbal cues, which can help improve counselling outcomes. This technology is particularly useful with reticent or less expressive seniors, where previously only more experienced social workers, counsellors and case managers were able to accurately assess their emotional and mental state. This AI technology can help to detect emotional and mental state of seniors earlier and faster thus allowing more counsellors and social workers with some experience to conduct preliminary assessment, based on rigorously tested protocols, for further follow-up and early intervention.

“The impact of COVID-19 is profound, with the suspension of programmes and services during Circuit Breaker causing more seniors to feel isolated, anxious and depressed. We have introduced virtual counselling but reduction in visual and auditory verbal cues may make it harder to detect emotions. The advances in artificial intelligence such as facial emotions detection will assist our staff in screening for mental health issues and enable our seniors to receive earlier and better care,” said Mr Anthony Tay, Chairman, Lions Befrienders.

Mr Richard Magnus, Deputy Chairman, Temasek Foundation, said: “We are culturally shy to share about our mental health problems. Our resilient seniors especially keep this condition away from their children so as not to burden them. Facial emotion analysis has tremendous potential to help us detect mental health issues accurately and address them early. We are pleased to support this locally-developed technology that is evidence-based and adapted for our local community.”

Developed by Opsis Emotion AI, a Singapore-based company and a spin-off from A*STAR, the emotion recognition analysis technology has been trialled in overseas healthcare settings and has proven to have more than 93% accuracy when benchmarked against similar technologies. This is the first time the technology is applied to seniors in a community setting in Singapore.

As part of the process to establish proof-of-concept, the AI technology will be deployed by LB’s social workers, counsellors and case managers during one-to-one and group counselling sessions, as well as community screenings for care planning. At the counselling sessions, LB social workers and case managers will confirm the AI-derived data with their observations to ascertain the technology’s precision in identifying the mental states of seniors in a community setting. LB staff and volunteers will follow up with seniors who expressed negative emotions associated with depression for further assessment or enrolment in counselling or befriending sessions.

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