Nine out of 10 senior citizens are hardy enough to live independently, according to a survey of 2,558 old folk in Marine Parade. But almost 400 of them show worrying signs of depression or dementia. A similar number also say they suffered a fall in the preceding 12 months. Worse, more than half of these folk aged 60 and older confess they do not exercise.

These findings of a Health Ministry survey, done between March and June this year, were unveiled last night at a dialogue Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong had with residents. His Marine Parade constituency has been picked to be the test bed for finding the types of facilities and services that can be introduced to tackle the problems highlighted by the survey. Said Mr Goh: “This is a very important pilot programme because it’s not just for Marine Parade. It’s for the whole of Singapore.

 

The survey is the first phase of a five-year pilot study to look into how homes and communities need to evolve to help the elderly age graciously. During this period, projects will be introduced in Marine Parade and if proved successful, they will be replicated across Singapore, said Mr Goh. The focus on the old is overdue, he indicated. “As you know, we spend a lot of funds on the young, the middle-aged and the workforce... But my own sense is, we had not paid sufficient attention (to the old) in the past because the population was not yet ageing. There were many programmes, but we did not approach the problem in a comprehensive way.” On the whole, the survey shows the elderly are contented with their lot in life. The majority maintain good relationships with their families and express satisfaction with the facilities and amenities in their estate. Most also enjoy the public transport system and – with the exception of the wheelchair-bound – do not have trouble boarding and alighting buses. But there are problems and some can be solved by making physical changes to their homes and the estate where they live.

The study will pick about 500 homes to be retrofitted with elderly-friendly features, such as anti-slip floor tiles and handrails in the bathroom, a gentle ramp to overcome the step at their flats’ entrance door, and larger peepholes for these doors. The cost of the retrofitting will come from funds provided by the Tote Board for the study. Other problems will have to be tackled through better coordination between families, health-care and voluntary welfare organisations in the community as well as the Government – what Mr Goh termed the “social ecosystem”. One example is a club catering to senior citizens living alone (10.6 per cent). It will arrange for volunteers to visit them at least once a week. Also in the pipeline is the setting up of a network of general practitioners in the neighbourhood who will ensure that those with chronic health problems receive the necessary follow-up care. Such solutions will be more challenging than the physical improvements, he noted, saying “the difficult part is building a social ecosystem” which can “generate ideas, the practices, the attitudes to look after an ageing population”.

Mr Goh gave his ideas too last night. One is a common practice in Japan where old people hang a cloth of a particular colour outside their homes in the day and take them in at night, so that their neighbours can see they are doing fine. “I am thinking of how we can introduce this in Marine Parade,” he said. The dialogue was attended by Marine Parade residents and grassroots leaders who voiced such concerns as rising medical costs and their overcrowded polyclinic. Minister of State for Health Amy Khor, who was present, said the Government was expanding the list of standard subsidised drugs. On the polyclinic, Mr Goh said the Government was looking at the possibility of building a bigger polyclinic elsewhere in Marine Parade.