Saturday 18 November 2023

Age Well SG: Singapore sets aside $800 million from FY2024 to FY2028 to help seniors age well at home, in their communities

Age Well Sg to Support Seniors to Age Actively and Independently In the Community
By Joyce Teo, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2023

More seniors will be supported to age well in the community under a programme that will set aside $800 million over five years for active ageing centres to expand their outreach and increase the range and quality of programmes.

Announcing the increased funding and other details of a multi-ministry Age Well SG programme on Thursday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said: “For many seniors, their biggest enemy is social isolation and loneliness. That’s when your health really deteriorates. We want them to be socially connected.”

He was speaking at a press conference at the NTUC Health Active Ageing Centre in Lengkok Bahru, Bukit Merah, on Thursday.

There will also be improvements made to housing and streets under the Age Well SG programme, which is also spearheaded by the Ministry of National Development (MND) and Ministry of Transport.

Singapore is ageing rapidly. By 2030, it will have more than 900,000 seniors aged 65 and above, with an increasing number living alone.

Mr Ong said each active ageing centre’s annual budget hovers around $400,000 and the fund injection would lead to a budget rise of at least 50 per cent.

“With greater resourcing, we also have higher expectations for agencies now,” he added. “It is not difficult to fill out an AAC (active ageing centre) with the same visitors every day. It is much more difficult to be able to reach out to the great majority of seniors all living around (the AAC) and able to engage them in meaningful ways.”

The activities at the AACs are meant to keep seniors healthy, but they must also suit the preferences of those living in the vicinity, he said. Communal dining is one activity that allows them to make friends.

Active ageing centres will also work with community partners such as Sport Singapore or the People’s Association, and make use of all the spaces in the community, including coffee shops, pavilions and community clubs.

They will need to work closely with healthcare clusters to implement health screening services in the community and integrate with the Healthier SG preventive health strategy to keep Singaporeans healthy.

At the NTUC Health Active Ageing Centre in Lengkok Bahru, for instance, there is a weekly community health post manned by nurses and a well-being coordinator from Singapore General Hospital, who can help seniors with, say, smoking cessation, counselling and advance care planning, or connect them with home care services.

Active ageing centres will be supported by Silver Generation or SG ambassadors and new senior volunteers whom they can recruit.

The Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) will roll out a programme to train senior volunteers to run programmes at active ageing centres or befriend seniors at risk of social isolation.

Mr Ong said the aim is to double the number of senior volunteers trained by AIC to around 4,000 by 2025, up from around 1,900 Silver Generation ambassadors at the moment.

“Volunteerism is a very important way for seniors to feel that they can continue to contribute to society and the people around. It will be a core function of the AACs to drive senior volunteerism,” he added.

While active ageing centres are meant for seniors who are well, those with care needs can look forward to a wider range of solutions. The Ministry of Health (MOH) and AIC, with support from the Manpower Ministry, have launched applications for a sandbox scheme to explore the viability of new stay-in shared caregiving models in the private sector.

Five companies, including one that offers assisted living in houses, have been identified for the sandbox scheme, with the aim of servicing an estimated 800 seniors. The models will be reviewed within two years, and, if they work, they will be scaled up, Mr Ong said.

A shared caregiving model may see a few seniors living together in the same flat. They form a new kind of family, a social circle, and can support one another, he added.

“At the same time, within this new household of a few seniors, you can have caregivers at less than the ratio of one to one... And that way, we’ll also reduce the manpower needed to deliver the care services,” he said.

Participating companies will be eligible for work permit quotas and foreign manpower concessions to give them the flexibility of recruiting caregivers from traditional and non-traditional sources.

For seniors who may have to undergo repeated assessments at multiple care providers, MOH will introduce a single point of contact to coordinate all their care needs.

This will happen progressively from the second half of 2024, and will provide the seniors and their caregivers with a more seamless care journey.

The coordinating provider will use a standardised care assessment tool to plan for a senior’s care needs, which will reduce the need for multiple assessments and unnecessary referrals by different care providers.

For instance, a senior who is discharged from hospital after a fall can be referred to an active ageing centre, which will be his single point of contact.

The centre can arrange for him to receive home personal care and senior care centre services provided by a different centre.

And, from April next year, caregivers will be able to tap up to $400 in Caregivers’ Training Grant per year, double the $200 currently. They can also use their SkillsFuture Credit to pay for eligible caregiver courses.

Another part of Age Well SG involves improvements to the living environment. National Development Minister Desmond Lee said a bigger, more concerted push will be made to address seniors’ needs in the built environment.

At home, seniors will get more senior-friendly features, including bigger easy-to-press switches, home fire alarm devices and foldable shower seats in their Housing Board (HDB) flats, as MND expands the Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE) programme into EASE 2.0, he added at the press conference.

A wireless alert alarm system will be progressively expanded to all seniors living in public rental housing, many of whom lack family support.

Outside the home, senior-centric upgrading works will be progressively rolled out in more than 20 older precincts with a high density of seniors, including Ang Mo Kio and Bukit Merah.

These include enhancements such as barrier-free access ramps and amenities like fitness trails.

To provide Singaporeans with more assisted-living options, MND, MOH and HDB will launch up to 30 Community Care Apartment projects by 2030.

These flats pair senior-friendly housing with on-site social activities and care services that can be customised according to their needs.

The first Community Care Apartment residents will move in next year, when their Bukit Batok flats are ready.

Singapore’s second Community Care Apartment project, in Queensway, was launched in late 2022.

A third one in Bedok will be available in the upcoming HDB Build-To-Order sales exercise in December.

By 2030, all towns will have “friendly streets”, with features such as kerbless crossings and lower speed limits as well as wider and more accessible footpaths, said Acting Minister for Transport Chee Hong Tat at the press conference.

Having safe roads, friendly streets and accessible facilities will give seniors the confidence to move around, he added.

Initiative to create pedestrian-friendly streets to cover all 24 Singapore towns by 2030
By Kok Yufeng, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2023

By 2030, an initiative to make some neighbourhood streets safer and more conducive for pedestrians, including seniors, will be expanded to cover all 24 towns in Singapore.

When that happens, these streets will have longer green-man signals, lower speed limits and kerb-free crossings.

Meanwhile, more than 20 older precincts in Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Merah, Queenstown and Toa Payoh, which have a higher concentration of elderly people, will be spruced up over the next five years to promote active ageing.

Barrier-free ramps, fitness trails and therapeutic gardens are in the works. These senior-centric upgrades are expected to benefit more than 21,000 households in these precincts.

Fitness trails, for instance, are meant to encourage seniors to go outdoors, stay active and expand their social networks. One such fitness trail will be built in the Mei Ling precinct in Queenstown as part of rejuvenation plans announced by the Housing Board in September.

There are also plans to launch assisted-living flats for seniors in 30 locations by 2030, if the model proves effective.

Two pilot projects have already been launched in Bukit Batok and Queenstown, and a third will be launched in Bedok in December.

The planned infrastructural improvements have been brought under the umbrella of Age Well SG, a national programme cutting across the areas of housing, transport, active ageing and care services, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee at a press conference on Thursday.

Led by the Health, Transport and National Development ministries, the programme aims to help those aged 65 and above to age well in their homes and communities.

On the transport front, the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) Friendly Streets scheme will first be tested in five locations – Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Batok West, Tampines, Toa Payoh and West Coast.

Construction will start progressively from the end of 2023 to retool nearly 5km of roads across these neighbourhoods, so that they prioritise pedestrians instead of vehicles.

The move to expand the scheme to all towns builds on positive feedback that LTA said it has received so far.

All five trial projects will have green road markings to remind motorists to slow down, but each project is also unique and designed in partnership with its community.

Said Acting Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat: “There will be a trade-off between the speed of travelling and safety... We will need the understanding and support of all our residents.”

The ministries said on Thursday that a bigger and more concerted effort is being made to meet the needs of Singapore’s rapidly greying population by improving homes and estates.

As with Friendly Streets, this push will entail closer partnerships with residents, and tighter coordination and collaboration between government agencies.

For instance, before upgrades are made to the 20 or so housing precincts, seniors there will be asked to give their views through “community improvement walks”.

Mr Lee said residents will be invited to take the authorities on routes they frequent in their estates, so that government agencies can identify gaps and better understand how these areas can be improved.

Senior-centric improvements will be made in selected private estates too, but the authorities could not provide information on which estates these are or how many will be chosen. Some of these estates will include those that have already been improved under the Ministry of National Development’s estate upgrading programme, said the ministries.

The upgrading work will include more barrier-free ramps and rest points along routes that seniors frequent. Larger and more colourful signs will also be introduced to help those with dementia find their way around.

As for the plan to add more assisted-living flats, the three ministries said it comes on the back of the positive response to the Harmony Village@Bukit Batok and Queensway Canopy pilot projects.

It was previously reported that about 90 per cent of the roughly 400 assisted-living units available at both projects were taken up at the end of their booking exercises.

These flats, which have leases ranging from 15 to 35 years, have elder-friendly designs and come bundled with care services such as 24-hour emergency response.

The ministries said scaling up such flats here will give more seniors the option of spending their golden years in familiar neighbourhoods.

“We will watch the initial few launches to ensure that the model works well (and) iron out all the issues along the way,” Mr Lee said, adding that there is high demand from seniors looking to “right-size” their homes.

Within existing HDB flats, the authorities are also looking to add a wider range of elder-friendly features.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced this in his National Day Rally speech in August, when he spoke about the expanded Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE) 2.0 programme, which will provide seniors with wider toilet entrances and foldable shower seats.

The ministries said on Thursday that the initiative will offer other features, such as home fire alarm devices and rocker light switches. The aim is to launch EASE 2.0 in 2024, Mr Desmond Lee said.

The new features come on top of the elder-friendly fittings that are already available under the current EASE programme, such as grab bars and ramps for flat entrances with steps.

The features were decided in consultation with the Ministry of Health, Agency for Integrated Care and healthcare professionals such as occupational therapists.

Launched in July 2012, EASE is offered in tandem with HDB’s Home Improvement Programme or via a direct application to the public housing agency.

To be eligible, households must have a family member aged 65 and above, or aged between 60 and 64 and in need of help with at least one activity of daily living, such as bathing or dressing.

Mr Edwin Lee, 70, who lives in Siglap, is glad that the Government is making it easier for seniors like himself to get around.

The semi-retired home baker said there have already been improvements made to his neighbourhood, with wider footpaths and longer crossing times near his bus stop.

He is also happy to see more fitness corners being built in convenient locations, adding: “I really appreciate the effort that is being put in.”

Alert button was lifeline for 67-year-old who fell in middle of night
By Joyce Teo, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2023

Earlier this year, when 67-year-old Khoo Ai Choo fell in her Redhill rental flat after going to the bathroom at midnight, she crawled to a wireless alert alarm system to activate a button and record a message that she needed help.

A few minutes later, a staff member from CareLine, a 24-hour telecare service by Changi General Hospital to support seniors, responded and called an ambulance to take Madam Khoo to a hospital.

It was a lifeline as she does not own a mobile phone, she told the media gathered at her flat for an interview on Wednesday.

Madam Khoo, who lives alone, has fallen two more times in the middle of the night since.

Each time, she has managed to get help by pressing the alert buttons installed near her front door and in the bathroom.

She used to own a walking stick but now uses a walking frame.

The alert system is manned by the active ageing centre at the void deck of her block during working hours and, after that, the CareLine team.

In the past 3½ years, around 800 seniors have received emergency medical assistance through the alert system, said the Ministry of National Development (MND).

On Thursday, it added that it will progressively expand the system to all seniors aged 60 and above living in public rental housing as part of the Age Well SG programme.

As at June, the system has been installed in about 8,600 units in 52 rental blocks, benefiting around 10,000 seniors.

The expansion will help 26,800 more seniors living in around 170 rental blocks, MND said.

The wireless alert system is an upgrade of an older pull-cord system, which seniors could use to activate an alarm at the void deck to alert anyone within hearing distance.

It was also connected to an active ageing centre but that was only during day working hours.

1,000 NUS students befriend seniors as part of course to encourage volunteerism
By Shermaine Ang, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2023

When third-year National University of Singapore (NUS) business undergraduate Bridget Ho visited a woman in her 80s at her flat in Farrer Road, she and her classmate would be asked to leave after half an hour when the senior wanted to rest.

But showing up week after week, Ms Ho, 25, discovered the senior used to be a tailor and shared her interest in crochet. Over time, with constant prompting, the older woman started to open up.

“I was very happy to see her smile,” said Ms Ho, adding that for a long time, the woman had not interacted with anyone apart from a helper she lived with, and was not used to visitors.

Ms Ho is among about 1,000 NUS students who befriended seniors at active ageing centres (AACs), where seniors have access to social activities, or took part in the Agency for Integrated Care’s (AIC) Silver Generation Ambassadors programme, where volunteers visit seniors at home to talk to them about preventive health.

The weekly visits Ms Ho paid to the older woman over eight months were part of an NUS service-learning course she completed this year.

The year-long, credit-bearing course, piloted this year, is the result of a tie-up between AIC and NUS that was inked on Thursday. It aims to engage more than 2,000 students a year in volunteering with seniors.

A memorandum of understanding was signed to promote volunteerism in the community care sector. Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing attended the event at NTUC Health Active Ageing Centre in Bukit Batok.

He said in a Facebook post that befriending programmes at AACs can create shared experiences through intergenerational bonding.

“I think both young and old have much to learn from each other. Time spent together is good for the heart, and for the soul.”

NUS now offers two year-long, service-learning courses as part of its general education curriculum. The courses, run by the department of social work, teach students how to communicate with empathy and civic consciousness to prepare them to engage seniors.

Students taking the Reconnect SeniorsSG course serve as befrienders, meeting seniors regularly to accompany them on walks and visits to the AAC, market or clinic.

Those taking the Support Healthy AgeingSG course visit seniors in their homes to inform them of government schemes and activities, and better understand their needs.

Ms Ong Mui Hong, director of NUS Communities and Engagement, said the service-learning courses “provide a valuable opportunity for all students to think deeper about societal issues while taking constructive actions to advance social services and community building”.

Mr Sng Hock Lin, chief of the Silver Generation Office which oversees the Silver Generation Ambassadors programme, said he is also working with corporate volunteers and hopes to engage more institutes of higher education in volunteering with seniors.

To encourage working adults to give their time, volunteer opportunities should be more flexible, he added. For instance, they can visit seniors in groups of five, so that the sessions can still go on even if some are unable to make it.

During her visits, Ms Ho and her classmate taught the older woman origami, or the art of folding paper. After learning a design, the senior would fold a bagful of origami, and show it to them during the next visit.

She said the senior was grateful when she bought her a glucometer to replace her broken one to monitor her blood sugar level for her diabetes.

Now, Ms Ho cherishes her own grandparents more and takes a greater interest in their lives. “I went home to spend quality time with my grandmother and find out what she likes to do.”

Madam Ng Yee Chan, 84, enjoys having the students visit. It is the only time she gets to interact with others apart from her youngest son and her helper, whom she lives with.

Being visually impaired, she does not get to leave home often due to the risk of falling. “I like when they visit, and I can chat with them,” she said. “They dote on me and hold my hand.”

Madam Ng, who added that she has little to do at home, also enjoys going out for walks with the student volunteers. She said she misses her five grandchildren, whom she cared for when they were young but are now too busy to visit.

“I try not to think too much, because doctors tell me I must be happy, then I will be healthy,” she added.


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