At the void deck of a studio apartment block, a group of senior citizens were enjoying some stretching exercises.
“67, 68, 69, Teh Tarik; 70, 71, 72, Teh Tarik…” said the seniors in unison as they moved their arms and stepped their feet to the catchy rhythm of the line, their wrinkled faces broke into happy smiles.
These seniors live in the studio apartment block named, "Golden Daisy", as well as nearby HDB blocks. They frequently visit a newly opened Tzu Chi eldercare centre, SEENA@Nanyang, to participate in classes and activities to enrich and enliven their golden years. Some of them are often seen spending their leisure time there chatting with friends and reading newspapers.
The studio apartments are specially designed and built by the HDB for senior citizens. They are equipped with grab bars and alert alarm systems. The seniors can activate the emergency alert system in their studio apartments to notify the eldercare centre, whose staff will promptly render assistance to them.
Reaching out to senior citizens
In 2019, Tzu Chi accepts the appointment by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to operate two eldercare centres in the west district—Seniors Engagement & Enabling Node (SEEN)—SEEN@Nanyang and SEEN@Bukit Batok.
According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, there were about 540,000 senior citizens aged 65 and above in Singapore by 2018, and this figure indicates a rapidly aging population.
To address the issue, the government has introduced many measures and policies, including making quality community healthcare services more accessible to the increasing elderly population. It has also launched the Community Networks for Seniors (CNS) scheme, which involves government bodies, voluntary welfare organisations and volunteers working together to reach out to senior citizens, encouraging them to get involved in community activities and caring for them when they become frail or physically challenged.
Through CNS, government agencies and community partners teamed up to bring “ABC” – Active Ageing, Befriending, and Care and Support – to seniors. Dr Edwin Lim, the head of medical services of Tzu Chi Singapore, shared that the name “SEEN” is given to the eldercare centres as he hopes that the elderly in our society could be “seen” and paid attention to by people. He added that the eldercare centres offer a platform for seniors to engage in various healthy and fun activities to allow “Active Ageing”. The seniors can also socialise and make new friends there (“Befriending”) as well as receive “Care and Support”.
A haven for active ageing
In fact, many of those who came to the new eldercare centres learned about them through word of mouth. Manager of SEEN Ms. Eve Zhong said that currently, over a hundred seniors participate in the centres’ activities and make use of the facilities there, including cooking areas, karaoke rooms, etc. She added that the centres hold more than 50 sessions of activities each month.
The programmes and activities offered at the centres are varied, and they include Chinese calligraphy classes and “PRAISE” exercises, as well as English classes, laughter yoga, etc. Through these programmes and activities, Tzu Chi hopes to encourage the elderly to live an active and healthy life and to bring home the message that “it is never too late to learn”.
As the population ages, many elderly people either live alone or only with their elderly partner after all their children have grown up and started their own families. Thus, they are very happy to have an eldercare centre nearby their homes where they can hang out.
“There are many senior friends here, and it is a place where we can spend our leisure time. I would be staying at home all day (if the centre were not here),” shared a senior.
Another senior sees the eldercare centre as a second home to her. She said, “After the centre is set up here, it provides emotional sustenance for us. The volunteers here treat us very well; they are very polite.”
Keeping seniors healthy through therapy and exercises
As the saying goes, “prevention is better than cure”. As a medical doctor, Dr Edwin Lim shared that SEEN offers programmes and activities that help the elderly delay the onset of age-related and chronic diseases as well as frailty.
The eldercare centres also conduct special training sessions twice a week that are related to “HAPPY”, i.e. “Healthy Ageing Promotion Programme For You”, which is launched by the National University of Singapore with the aim of helping the elderly maintain optimum physical and mental health.
SEEN@Nanyang is also equipped with five sets of “Gym Tonic” equipment that allow seniors to train different parts of their bodies. Tzu Chi Singapore collaborates with the Lien Foundation to provide “Gym Tonic”, a senior-friendly strength-training programme which helps to reverse physical frailty through the use of software-enabled gym equipment designed to gently build the elderly’s core muscle groups.
The special gym equipment are able to keep track of the exercises of the seniors and the information which is stored in the system is then used by an assistant therapist to adjust the exercise programme for them every three to six months. The programme provides two half-hour training sessions each week for a period of 12 weeks.
In SEEN@Bukit Batok, rehabilitation services are provided twice a week to help patients improve their bodily functions, loosen their muscles and correct their joints. Vinoth, the physiotherapist from Tzu Chi Day Rehabilitation Centre and his assistant will provide rehabilitation services to those who have made prior appointments. They served about 15 to 20 patients during a two-hour session each day.
Vinoth shared that the services are mainly targeted at those with backache and pain in the neck and knees. He added that the seniors living in the studio flats can not only participate in various activities that are beneficial to their body and mind, but also receive health knowledge and nursing care.
At an APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit, PM Lee Hsien Loong highlighted that an ageing population would not become a “silver tsunami”, if we build an elderly-friendly society and transform the issue into a driving force that helps propel the economy and social development.
Therefore, old age is not a frightening issue. As long as the elderly keep a positive mindset and active lifestyle by "stepping out of their homes into the world", they can still live a meaningful and useful life.