Sunday 26 August 2012

Few using mobility and transport aid for seniors

Only 863 people have taken up offer, less than 3% of $10m used
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 25 Aug 2012

ONLY $280,000, or a scant 2.8 per cent, of the $10 million Senior's Mobility Fund has been used to help some of the elderly remain connected to society.

More than a year ago, the Government set aside the money to pay up to 90 per cent of the cost of mobility aids, from walking sticks to wheelchairs.

Only 863 people have utilised the offer, including 159 wheelchair-bound seniors who receive a subsidy to help them get to a rehabilitation centre.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) had found that some poorer patients were not recovering as well as they should because they had difficulty getting to rehabilitation regularly.

The fund is intended to help them overcome this hurdle. Some were too poor even to afford the aids that could help them become mobile.

When asked about the low take-up rate, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said it was early days. He added that the Agency for Integrated Care is "working with the grassroots organisations to tap their community network to better publicise the scheme".

He hopes that less well-off seniors would use the fund to help them move around, not just at home but in the community as well. This could enable them to stay active and socialise, and give them a feeling of integration.

Dr Lam Pin Min, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, felt the reason could be a lack of awareness, and suggested wider dissemination of information.

Dr Lam also felt the average of about $300 disbursed per person "was quite a small amount". He suggested the fund be used to help pay for the more expensive motorised wheelchairs "which can offer enhanced mobility for the elderly".

Madam Lim Soong Hiong (photo), 59, might never have been able to walk again but for the help she received in getting to a seniors' centre for daily rehabilitation exercise.

She had severe back problems, with pain radiating down her legs. Doctors put her on painkillers, but it reached the stage where she could not even walk. After two operations about three months apart, the pain eased. But she was wheelchair-bound.

She started exercising at a day rehabilitation centre a few streets away from her home in Ang Mo Kio. But because she was not mobile, she needed transportation, which cost more than $200 a month.

Fortunately, her age enabled her to qualify for a transportation subsidy under the mobility fund, reducing her share to just over $100 a month.

"It's too expensive. I wouldn't have been able to come every day without the subsidy," she said in Mandarin.

Now the former cleaner, who lives with her husband and daughter in a three-room flat, is able to walk with the aid of a walking frame.

"Now, I can bathe and go to the toilet on my own," she said, acknowledging appreciation for the renewed independence.

Another person who benefited from the fund is Mr Koh Ah Chye, 71, who had suffered a stroke and was using an old, heavy wheelchair.

The therapist at Asian Women's Welfare Association rehabilitation centre, where he goes to exercise, noticed the state of his wheelchair and applied to the fund for a new, lightweight one. He had to pay only $35.

Mr Koh is not the only one happy with the change. His wife, who is his main caregiver, finds it much easier to push him around now.

Like Madam Lim, he also gets a transport subsidy to take him to and from the centre. He too is starting to get up and walk a little with some assistance.

PEOPLE aged 55 and older who are wheelchair-bound may apply for financial help to pay for their transport to and from a day rehabilitation centre.

Aid is also available for the purchase of mobility aids such as walking sticks and wheelchairs under the Social Mobility Fund.

Applicants have to fulfil age and income criteria to qualify for this aid.

For help with transport costs, applicants have to be from households with a per capita income of $2,200 a month or less. Per capita income is calculated by dividing the total income of a household by the number of people living there.

Those who want help with the purchase of mobility aids have to be at least 60 years old and have a per capita income of up to $1,500 a month.

The fund will pay up to 90 per cent of the cost, or up to $270 for a wheelchair and $135 for a walking aid, whichever is lower.

If the applicant can justify the need for a more costly aid, the subsidy can be higher.

Applications can be made through a hospital or day centre therapist, or directly to the Agency for Integrated Care, which is reachable on 6603-6800.

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