Tuesday 10 January 2012

More estates to get elderly-friendly fittings

Four towns will head drive to make S'pore 'A City for All Ages'
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 9 Jan 2012

Three towns - Whampoa, Bedok and Taman Jurong - will join Marine Parade in being retrofitted to make them elderly-friendly, but for them, the process will be fast-tracked.

These four towns, among those with the oldest populations, will be in the vanguard of the move to transform Singapore into 'A City For All Ages'.

When the works are completed, residents in these towns will have age-friendly features in their neighbourhoods as well as in their homes.

This came out in a Straits Times interview with Minister of State for Health Amy Khor, who is on the Ministerial Committee on Ageing (MCA), set up in 2007 to promote active ageing among Singapore's greying population.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, made chairman of the MCA after last year's general election, set up five subcommittees within it.

Dr Khor heads two: Manpower development and City For All Ages.

She said that data gathered about the seniors in Marine Parade, the pilot town, will enable her committee to identify the improvements that will provide real benefits before they are rolled out nationwide.

Improvements in the common areas include converting some steps into ramps so the wheelchair-bound can get about their town easily.

Other changes will include providing more seats in common areas and increasing the time for the 'green man' at traffic crossings to give the elderly more time to get to the other side.

A year ago, the Government polled almost 2,600 Marine Parade residents aged 60 years and up to find out what they needed in their homes and neighbourhoods to make life easier and safer for them.

These people were also given health and physical ability screenings. Through these checkups, it emerged that 15 per cent or almost 400 of them had had falls in the past year.

With the information, plans were made to retrofit 500 flats in Marine Parade to make them safer and easier for the aged.

The cost of $2,000 per flat will largely be borne by the Tote Board.

On their part, the elderly in these retrofitted flats will have to take note each time they have a fall; they will also have to take part in exercise and other healthy activities.

Dr Khor said Whampoa, Bedok and Taman Jurong were picked for their geographical and population diversity.

Whampoa in central Singapore is an old estate, where 18.5 per cent of the residents are aged 65 years and older.

Nationally, about 10 per cent of residents are in this age group. Their numbers are expected to triple from 300,000 in 2010 to 900,000 by 2030; by then, they will make up 23 per cent, or nearly a quarter, of the population.

In Whampoa, two-thirds of the over-65s live in three-room or smaller flats, and so are likely to be in the lower income group, noted Dr Khor.

Bedok, like Marine Parade, is in the east. It was picked because of its proportion of older residents, and also for its concentration of Malays, who make up 17 per cent of the residents.

Dr Khor said: 'We must never assume that all older people have the same needs. It will be interesting to see if there are unique challenges among the Malays.'

Bedok will also be the test bed for facilities for the elderly, such as day care and rehabilitation services.

Residents in Taman Jurong are not as old: 13 per cent are aged 55 to 64.

'They are the future old,' said Dr Khor.

Taman Jurong was included for an insight into the possibility of retrofitting elderly-friendly features in a neighbourhood due for upgrading.

With Bedok, Whampoa and Taman Jurong, polling of the elderly, medical screenings and studying of the data will be done simultaneously and more quickly, instead of sequentially as was the case with Marine Parade, said Dr Khor.

She said she is setting up an advisory panel for the City For All Ages subcommittee. It will comprise architects and people in the industry who can identify the challenges and who may even know of possible solutions.

Grassroots leaders will also be tapped for their knowledge of what each community would like to have in the estate.

Dr Khor said she will work with the Ministry of National Development to make provisions in new housing estates for future needs.

These would include places to locate day-care centres for the elderly in central locations.

The void decks of existing housing blocks have too many pillars, making it difficult to convert these spaces for this use, she said.

Looking into ageing

THE Ministerial Committee on Ageing was set up in 2007 to spearhead Singapore's preparation to promote active ageing for its increasingly old population.

There are 12 political office-holders and five civil servants in the committee chaired by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong. Since taking on the chairmanship, Mr Gan has set up five subcommittees, each looking into an aspect of ageing.

Manpower development and City For All Ages: These two subcommittees are headed by Dr Amy Khor, the Minister of State for Health.
Home care and family support, under the charge of Madam Halimah Yacob, Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports.
Active ageing and employability, chaired by Mr Heng Chee How, Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office.
Development of health care and social care services, helmed by Mr Gan.

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