Whenever Madam Chin Mooi Kooi, 89, feels lonely, she picks up the phone and calls her neighbour in the next block, Madam Susan Lu, 70.

“She is like another daughter to me,” said Madam Chin, who lives in a four-room HDB flat in Bedok with a helper. Her daughter and son live with their families in other parts of town.

For the last three years, Madam Lu, a retiree, has been visiting Madam Chin at her home a couple of times a week, to keep her company and check on her well-being.

“We chit-chat about everything, from exchanging recipes to household matters. It’s nice to have a visitor, especially one who also speaks Hokkien and shares my interest in cooking,” said Madam Lu.

Madam Lu is a volunteer under the Neighbours for Active Living (Neighbours) programme, launched by the Eastern Health Alliance (EHA) and the South East Community Development Council in 2013.

The programme brings together many parties including volunteers, a care team comprising professionals with nursing, social work backgrounds and community partners such as family service centres, to work together to keep the elderly well in the community. The focus is on those who are at risk of frequent hospital admissions.

Once these patients are discharged from hospitals, the care team visits them at home to ensure they take their medication corrrectly and go for their medical appointments. They also link patients with community organisations if they need financial assistance or help getting meals, household supplies and transport for their medical appointments. To ensure any urgent issues are addressed early, the care team has direct access – via email or phone - to the patients’ doctors in the hospital.

Volunteers trained in communication and befriending skills who live nearby visit the elderly a couple of times a week, to ensure that they do not feel lonely or isolated.

“The volunteers forge long-term relationships that enable elderly residents to stay as healthy as possible at home. They are like the “eyes and ears” of our care team who alert us if there’s anything wrong.” 

Ms Cheryl Lau, community manager of the Neighbours programme.

Thanks to this approach, a study of 2,540 “Neighbours” clients who were recruited from 2013 to 2016 showed that over a six-month study period, 68 per cent had fewer hospital admissions (from 2.2 to 1.0 admissions) and shorter hospital stays (from 7.1 days to 4.1 days).