Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Health screening of elderly folk to be expanded

By Poon Chian Hui, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2011

A PILOT programme which screened 800 elderly folk for their ability to perform daily tasks will be widened to reach another 30,000 individuals.

To be run in places such as community centres from March, the Community Functional Screening Programme will be targeted at citizens and permanent residents aged 60 and above.

In two years, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) will have taken the programme - first run in Jurong and Hong Kah North on a small scale - to all constituencies in Singapore.

To encourage the elderly to undergo the screening, it will cost them only $5 each, with the HPB shouldering the remaining $25 per person.

While a typical health screening involves, for example, blood and urine tests to detect high cholesterol and diabetes, the screening for functional decline among senior citizens will include assessing their mobility and ability to perform daily tasks, how well they hold their urine, their mental well-being, and their vision, hearing and dental health.

The HPB is scouting for health-care providers to conduct the screenings.

Dr Crystal Ng, medical director of Parkway Shenton, which offers this kind of health screening, said that by detecting signs of functional decline early, elderly people can seek medical advice to manage their conditions before they worsen.

But Dr Wilson Wong, medical director of Raffles Medical, added that most of those aged 60 or older are not drawing a regular income, so spending on health screenings may not be a priority for them.

Only 5 per cent of those who show up at Raffles Medical for health screenings are in their 60s or older.

The tender documents the HPB has issued require the service provider to compile the medical information and screening results of participants. The information is intended for a database on the functional health of the elderly here.

The service provider will also be required to station nurse counsellors to interpret screening results and to advise the elderly on follow-up treatment.

Geriatrician Reshma Merchant, who heads the general medicine department at National University Hospital (NUH), noted that although more older people are being screened, many still fail to follow through with check-ups, possibly because of the expense involved.

To forestall this, the service provider eventually picked by HPB to run the programme will have to make phone calls to programme participants - the first one a week later, and the second, a month later.

An HPB spokesman said that immediate follow-up care will be also be available at most screening sessions, at which doctors, optometrists and dentists will be stationed.

Dr Yuen Yih, the director of the health assessment centre of the Singapore General Hospital, said screening is especially relevant for the elderly, adding: 'It is the time health problems start to surface. Early treatment can help delay and reduce risk of health complications.'

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