Tuesday 21 February 2012

Independence for the elderly in group home

Pilot project lets those with no kin live in the community
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 20 Feb 2012

SINGAPORE'S first group home for the elderly was officially opened yesterday, after seven residents moved in over the past two weeks.

The pilot project brings together seniors above 65 with little or no family support. They will live in rental flats, each containing two or three people. The aim is to let them live independently within the community instead of being sent to nursing or old people's homes.

'The seniors group homes is actually meant to provide an option to our seniors, who are frail, need support, but yet they should not be living in the nursing homes,' said Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob. 'You put them in a nursing home, they have no control over their lives. But here they can still continue to do what they like to do, with some support and assistance.'

The idea came after the Ministerial Committee on Ageing visited similar facilities in Britain and the Netherlands, said Madam Halimah.

Residents at the group homes can buy their own food from hawker centres nearby or go for walks. They can also opt to get meals delivered if they do not want to venture out or cook, and there is medical assistance provided by volunteers from the Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society.

'This is not a dying place, this is a living space where they will find companionship,' said Mr Lee Kim Siang, chairman of the volunteer welfare organisation. It will manage the flats and an activity room set up for the seniors to socialise.

'The purpose of assisted living in a community setting like this is to encourage them to support each other, to look out for each other and to take part in community activities... we try to encourage the seniors to come out and mingle with the others,' said Madam Halimah.

Located in Block 94 in Pipit Road, the eight flats in the pilot programme have all been renovated to make them more elderly friendly. Bathroom entrances have been widened, water heaters relocated so they do not get in the way, and grab bars installed. Doors in the flats have also been changed to sliding ones, with tracks overhead so they do not trip up old people who might need walking aids.

The one-room flats are also partitioned so each resident has his own little corner in the communal quarters. For now, only three of the units are occupied.

Having a private space and yet living with others is what Mr Ho Hon Kit is looking forward to. The 85-year-old moved into a flat on Saturday night after seven months at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

'If you treat others well, they will treat you well,' he said of making new friends. 'I like it better here because there are only three people to a room.'

Although given free rein, the old folk will be monitored by a CCTV system in each flat. It consists of two cameras that can be monitored remotely on a caregiver's iPhone or iPad. The seniors each also have a panic button strapped to the wrist, which when pressed sends an alert to the cellphones of five caregivers.

The monitoring systems, set up by Elderwise Living, cost about $10,000 for the eight units. The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) declined to reveal how much it spent on the project, which is co-funded by the Government and the volunteer organisations.

For now, priority is given to seniors with little or no support, most of whom are on public assistance. Another cluster will be launched in Henderson later this year. If successful, the programme will be expanded, said Madam Halimah. MCYS expects to cater to 'a few hundred seniors' over the next five years.

Mr Taylor, 73, a senior who did not want to give his full name, said he is looking forward to living independently.

'I lived in an old folks' home before and I wasn't allowed to use my wheelchair because they were worried I would knock into other people. Now I have the freedom to move around, to be able to do whatever I want to do. You catch a bird and you put it in a cage, do you think it'll be happy? A bird has to fly.'

At group home, seniors find freedom and support
Pilot project houses old folk with little or no family support
By Tay Suan Chiang, The Straits Times, 29 Feb 2012

RETIREE Ghani Masoot, 79, takes more than five kinds of medication every day for various illnesses, including hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and urinary tract infection.

In the past, that meant having to fiddle with packets of medication and counting out the exact dosage.

But since moving into the THK Seniors Group Home at Block 94 Pipit Road about two weeks ago, he no longer has to struggle.

The coloured pills for all his illnesses come in prepackaged doses. Some have to be taken before breakfast, after breakfast and after lunch and dinner. All he needs to do is break the seal of the correct pack and consume all the pills in it.

'It is easy to follow which medication to take,' he said.

Mr Ghani is one of the eight elderly people living at the seniors group home, run by the Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society. It was officially opened on Feb 19.

The pilot project brings together seniors with little or no family support. The aim is to let them live independently within the community, instead of being sent to nursing or old folks' homes.

At the group home, eight one-room HDB flats on the seventh storey of Block 94 have been renovated to become more elderly friendly.

Bathroom entrances have been widened and grab bars installed. Each flat - about 33 sq m in size - is partitioned so that three residents can live in them. There is also a television and ceiling fan in each unit.

One of the flats has been converted into an air-conditioned common room, where the walls have been painted in soothing shades of beige and blue.

The residents are encouraged to watch TV, play games and interact with the other residents there. Staff from Thye Hua Kwan have a work station there too.

Sometimes, curious neighbours from other floors who peep in for a look are invited in to see what it is like to live there.

There are now six men and two women living in the group home. Most of them were referred to the home by their medical social workers.

Mr Ghani, who requires a wheelchair to move around, shares his flat with two others.

'It was very quiet on the first day in the flat as we didn't know each other,' he said. But now, he said, all three of them are friends.

He does miss his home in Bishan where he used to live with his daughter, but said he prefers living in the group home.

'There is freedom to do what I like, and I don't feel so alone here,' he said. 'The set-up is like a home, so it is easy to adjust to living here.'

Residents who are more mobile are free to head out of the home during the day.

'But we tell them that they must be back by 10pm,' said Ms Diyana Abu Samah, 40, the home's programme manager.

The residents look out for each other, and if one flatmate is not back by evening, they become worried.

For bachelor Tan Say Wan, 68, the group home is a proper place for him to spend the night. He used to live with his brother in Bedok, but because of space constraints, he often slept in the void deck.

Now, he spends the day walking around the neighbourhood, chatting with neighbours, playing games such as Jenga and watching TV. 'I'm not bored, I am happy here,' he said.

Thye Hwa Kuan's executive director, Mr S. Tiwari, said there have been at least five inquiries a week from medical social workers about the group home since its opening.

Priority is given to seniors with little or no support, and those who are on public assistance. Elderly people who are frail and require medical attention, but are still fairly independent, are also accepted.

It costs $50 a month for the seniors to live here.

Another cluster of senior group homes will be launched in Henderson later this year. It will be managed by NTUC Eldercare.

The idea for group housing for the elderly in Singapore came after the Ministerial Committee on Ageing visited similar facilities in Britain and the Netherlands.

Ms Susana Harding, director of the International Longevity Centre Singapore, an initiative of Tsao Foundation, believes that the group elder home concept will take off in Singapore.

'Most elderly people want to continue living in the community rather than in nursing homes,' she said. 'It will ensure that those without families and are frail will have some immediate support, and they can look after each other for company.'

Dr Lily Neo, an advocate for the elderly and MP for Tanjong Pagar, said the concept for senior group housing 'sounds good'.

But she was worried that the residents may not get along with each other.

Ms Harding acknowledged that relationship problems are not uncommon. 'What could also help a lot in ensuring that problems are nipped in the bud or avoided is to involve the older people themselves in this initiative.'

For now, Dr Neo's fears are unfounded. Mr Tiwari said the case manager will mediate disputes.

'If that doesn't work, we will move the resident to another flat. But so far, we have not had such problems.'

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