Improve eldercare facilities to promote dignified ageing

Patients at a home for senior citizens taking part in a physiotherapy session.
Patients at a home for senior citizens taking part in a physiotherapy session. PHOTO: ST FILE

Many netizens have argued that nursing homes are "second best" choices compared with caring for the elderly at home.

Arguably, this may be due to deficiencies in the way eldercare is conducted in Singapore.

In its 2014/15 Annual Report, the Lien Foundation ran a comparative study on eldercare facilities in Japan and Singapore.

It found that while Japanese facilities emphasisedthe autonomy, individuality and dignity of the elderly, facilities in Singapore often deprive the elderly of their privacy, freedom and possessions.

Japanese homes also tend to give the elderly meaningful activities to pass the time, while Singapore facilities, according to the report, "practise paternalism and engage (the elderly) in activities that do not serve any purpose".

Consequently, instead of being seen as places where the elderly can enjoy a meaningful retirement, nursing homes here are considered places of stagnation and shame.

Singaporeans are, hence, reluctant to rely on them, as they feel that such places are not conducive for their elderly loved ones.

Clearly, more than merely improving the physical quality of these facilities, Singapore should consider how to run these organisations to facilitate dignified ageing.

The Government and tertiary institutions should collaborate to extend lifelong learning opportunities to the elderly.

While continuing education in Singapore is typically associated with utilitarian aims, it is also about enriching the mind and soul. It also keeps the elderly cognitively sharp and wards off degenerative diseases.

The elderly should, therefore, be allowed to use their remaining SkillsFuture credits to pursue modules at universities. Academics could also be encouraged to visit eldercare facilities to teach specially designed courses to the elderly there.

Such initiatives are not only enriching but also possess significant symbolic value as an act of gratitude to our pioneers, many of whom gave up education opportunities to build our nation.

Moreover, the elderly should be allowed more autonomy over their lives.

Rather than having to follow paternalistic fixed programmes, they should be allowed to make decisions for themselves, as long as these do not endanger themselves or others.

Consequently, instead of infantilising the elderly, this would allow them to maintain their dignity as autonomous human beings.

Our pioneer generation sacrificed much to achieve today's economic miracle. We should give them a dignified retirement befitting their contributions to Singapore.

Ng Qi Siang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2016, with the headline 'Improve eldercare facilities to promote dignified ageing'. Print Edition | Subscribe