Social hubs for seniors already exist, but more needed

MPs Cheryl Chan and Joan Pereira called for integrated social hubs to alleviate the isolation of seniors, and for such hubs to be located in community clubs ("MPs call for social hubs where the elderly will not be left alone"; Wednesday).

With the support of Lions Clubs in Singapore and funding mainly from the Government, the Lions Befrienders Service Association is already operating six such social hubs across the island.

These senior activity centres (SACs) serve precisely the same purpose as Ms Chan and Ms Pereira advocated - to help the elderly stay mentally and physically active through social interactions with others in the community.

Our goal is to help these seniors age in place, in the familiarity of their own communities, and maintain their sense of independence, self-worth and dignity for as long as possible.

Since 2000, our SACs have served more than 3,000 seniors aged 60 and above, living within walking distance of the SACs. Therein lies one of our major challenges - persuading our seniors to travel a little farther outside their physical "comfort zone".

We know many seniors who find it tiring to travel more than two or three blocks away from their homes. Bringing an SAC closer to such seniors means setting up an SAC for every two to three HDB blocks - a daunting proposition with enormous costs.

Nonetheless, having more SACs or social hubs must surely be the way forward, as they provide mentally and physically stimulating activities for seniors that transcend coffee shop chit-chats.

For frail seniors who cannot or do not wish to venture out of their homes, we have been managing an islandwide befriending service since 1995 that involves volunteers and staff visiting such seniors at their homes.

To date, we have served more than 10,000 seniors at risk of social isolation due to the absence of family and social support.

This service is highly volunteer-intensive, thus, Ms Pereira's call for the Government to set up a website for retired professionals to register their interest in volunteering is a welcome one.

Chey Chor Khoon (Dr)

Executive Director

Lions Befrienders Service Association (Singapore)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline 'Social hubs for seniors already exist, but more needed'. Print Edition | Subscribe