Why It Matters

Making homes elderly-friendly

A Housing Board scheme which retrofits flats with elder-friendly features will be expanded to subsidise ramps of more than one step high, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on Sunday.

This affects only a minority of households - multi-step entrances are found only in some flats built in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet, it is significant if it represents a sustained effort to better cater to the needs of the elderly - a drive that will grow more urgent with the number of seniors living alone estimated to reach 83,000 by 2030.

Currently, the Enhancement for Active Seniors (Ease) scheme subsidises only those ramps with a one-step difference or a change in level of no more than 120mm or so. Ramps of a greater height may be too steep or obstruct the common corridor, said Mr Wong. But HDB has been looking for a solution and hopes to expand Ease when it can, he added.

That will be just the latest in several improvements to the scheme, launched in 2012 under the Home Improvement Programme (HIP). In 2013, home owners in all towns could apply for Ease directly instead of waiting for their block to be selected for the HIP. And in 2014, the age cut-off was lowered.

Since 2012, the scheme has subsidised about 90,000 households. It covers three features: slip-resistant treatment to bathroom tiles, grab bars in toilets, and ramps.

It is a good sign the scheme is still being updated, though some may say HDB should have foreseen the issue posed by steps. The good news is that HDB has since been building flats with the elderly in mind.

Flats today come with lever taps and door handles, which are easier to grasp. Large rocker switches are placed at a lower height, so wheelchair users can reach them too. And ramps at main entrances and bathrooms mean retrofitting will not be required.

HDB is also rolling out "smart-ready" homes with sufficient data points and sockets so owners can install features like a system to alert next of kin if an elderly resident is inactive for an unusually long time.

Schemes like Ease are helpful, but must continue to be complemented by proactive moves: designing future homes with the future elderly in mind.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2016, with the headline 'Making homes elderly-friendly'. Print Edition | Subscribe