Build hardware, heartware to support ageing in place

With Singapore's rapidly ageing population and the changing demographics of our seniors in the next two decades, it is timely for all stakeholders - policymakers, practitioners, seniors home operators, service providers and the community - to regroup and rethink the next model of care for our seniors group homes ("Seniors' home scheme under review"; June 10, and "Seek balance in seniors' home"; Tuesday).

Ideally, every one of us should grow old with our loved ones and families in the comfort and familiarity of our own home.

However, in reality, there are various circumstantial reasons as to why seniors choose to live alone - estranged familial relations, or the desire to be independent or have personal space.

In line with our national directive to promote ageing in place, AWWA Senior Community Home started as a sheltered home with 20 residents in 1976. Today, it is home to 140 seniors without family support or next of kin, occupying the first four levels of a rental block in Ang Mo Kio.

Through a transdisciplinary team of nurses on duty 24/7, social workers and other care staff, we operate at full capacity, with around seven referrals a month.

We take a collaborative approach with our seniors and empower them to be independent and take charge of their lives, regardless of their health status or physical ability.

Though many of our seniors started off as lonely and rejected strangers, we have witnessed many of them forging lasting friendships and caring for one another selflessly in times of adversity, such as deteriorating health or sickness.

Some even found their second chance at love - four couples met and married at the home.

We have also witnessed camaraderie among the seniors who have bonded and who look out for one another, injecting warmth, instilling a sense of "home away from home" and bringing out the true meaning of ageing in place.

AWWA could not have done it alone. We have the support of numerous volunteers from the neighbourhood, schools, corporate organisations and well-meaning individuals. This is about how a community comes together to support lonely seniors and reintegrate them into the community as valued members of society.

With the Government's ongoing efforts in enhancing social care programmes to encourage seniors' social interaction and participation in the community, the same can be applied to seniors group homes.

We can look beyond the hardware, building the "heartware" with a strong focus on social and psychosocial aspects, to ensure a seamless continuum of care for our next generation of seniors.

Keith Lee
Health and Senior Care

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'Build hardware, heartware to support ageing in place'. Print Edition | Subscribe