First retirement village opens in Singapore in December

A panoramic shot of the interior of St Bernardette Lifestyle Village, which houses eight elderly residents. Each will pay $3,500 a month, and this includes breakfast, housekeeping and laundry services.
A panoramic shot of the interior of St Bernardette Lifestyle Village, which houses eight elderly residents. Each will pay $3,500 a month, and this includes breakfast, housekeeping and laundry services. ST PHOTOS: NEO XIAOBIN
Residents will feel like they are living in their own home where they can invite family and friends over. If they feel like going out, the staff can accompany them for outings or walks to the nearby hawker centre or mall.
Residents will feel like they are living in their own home where they can invite family and friends over. If they feel like going out, the staff can accompany them for outings or walks to the nearby hawker centre or mall.ST PHOTOS: NEO XIAOBIN

SINGAPORE - Nestled in the prime district of Bukit Timah, near the Newton fly- over, is a single-storey cream and brown bungalow that will soon open its doors as Singapore's first eldercare facility of its kind.

St Bernadette Lifestyle Village will begin operating next month, helping seniors to live independently while looking out for their well-being. The assisted living facility will take in just eight residents, who will pay $3,500 a month. That includes breakfast, housekeeping and laundry services.

Nursing home fees here range from $1,200 to $3,500 a month, before government subsidies of 10 to 75 per cent.

Such homes, which are common in Europe and the United States, offer a housing alternative for the elderly who may need help with dressing, bathing, eating or going to the toilet but do not need the intensive medical and nursing care provided in nursing homes.

''There is quite a lot of resentment among older adults if they are put in nursing homes, especially if they are still able physically, as they fear losing their autonomy,'' said Dr Belinda Wee, 51, who runs the Good Shepherd Loft nursing home next door but decided to open the St Bernadette Lifestyle Village for those who are more mobile.

LIMITED CHOICE

She had three falls over the last year so we can’t let her continue to live at home alone. We like this place because there’s privacy and she won’t be ‘locked up’ like in a nursing home, but there is also care staff to keep an eye on her. ’t have many choices in Singapore so it’s either put our mother here or hire a maid.

MS RUTHH, who took her mother, 86, to view St Bernadette Lifestyle Village

Though Singapore is one of the fastest ageing countries in the world, there is a lack of eldercare living options here.

Unlike other countries where assisted living or retirement villages are common, the main options here are nursing or old folks' homes. The Government, however, has started to explore European-style group living for the elderly poor in HDB flats.

St Bernadette Lifestyle Village offers a similar model of group living.

Each senior will have his own room with an attached bathroom that is wheelchair accessible. Residents share a living room which has a sofa and television and a dining area with a small kitchenette. If they fall or need help, they can activate an emergency bell to alert a 24-hour medical concierge. Or if they need greater medical expertise, they can call on the doctor and nurses in the nursing home next door.

Residents can also invite friends and family over for outdoor barbecues or use the open space outside for group activities like taiji or mahjong. There are also staff to accompany them for outings or walks to the nearby hawker centre or mall.

Dr Wee, who was based for the past three years in New Zealand, where she and her husband worked as doctors, said: ''People there had more personalised care. Here, there are people living in nursing homes who would be happier and more suited for independent living.''

Nursing homes usually have round-the-clock supervision and a structured timetable of activities which may be stifling for the more able adults.

Ms Peh Kim Choo, director of Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing at Tsao Foundation, agreed. ''Some of the elders in nursing homes do not have to be there if home-help services were more accessible, coupled with a robust integrated system of community-based healthcare services and a range of affordable assisted living residences,'' she said. ''When there are not enough housing options, people are placed in facilities that they don't need while those with genuine need end up in long queues, and the whole system could become clogged up, costly and ineffective.''

One of the residents from Good Shepherd Loft has already decided to make the shift to St Bernadette next month, on a six-month lease. The 87-year-old used to live alone at home with a maid but his family checked him into Good Shepherd Loft a year ago after he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

''Each time a family member visits, he will get angry and insists on going home because he likes to cook or go out to eat,'' said Dr Wee.

Ms Ruth H, 70, who took her 86-year-old mother to view the place last Wednesday, said: ''She had three falls over the last year so we can't let her continue to live at home alone. We like this place because there's privacy and she won't be 'locked up' like in a nursing home, but there is also care staff to keep an eye on her,'' she said.

''We don't have many choices in Singapore so it's either put our mother here or hire a maid.''

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 08, 2015, with the headline 'First retirement village’ opens next month'. Print Edition | Subscribe