Address plight of vulnerable elderly

As a senior citizen myself, I am saddened by the sight of hunched old men and women in our midst trudging along our roads with heavy loads in cardboard boxes.

Such frail elderly people can also be seen cleaning washrooms, clearing and cleaning food trays at restaurants, collecting tin cans from dustbins and doing other types of menial work.

While it is understandable that some healthy and able-bodied senior citizens may want to relieve the boredom at home and earn some pocket money by doing menial jobs, it is not humane for society to allow its age-worn citizens to spend their days in this manner.

Senior citizens also face the problem of social and psychological abuse. With a growing ageing population in Singapore, more needs to be done to rectify this.

Of particular concern is the psychological abuse that elderly people go through, including threats, humiliation or harassment. This creates distress, shame or stress, often leading to a sense of powerlessness.

Similarly, social exclusion is a very important factor in older people feeling undervalued and not being able to participate actively in the community.

It is also equally vital that the physical environment of our senior citizens - from roads and footpaths to accessibility by public transport to health centres, community centres, shops and parks - allows them to age gracefully and actively.

The people most vulnerable tend to be older, have fewer assets, low income and poor health.

They are also less likely to understand their rights and entitlements and are more likely to be dependent on others for care.

Family conflicts, isolation, stress in care relationships and poor literacy exacerbate their plight.

Older workers also battle a range of age-based stereotypes relating to adaptability, physical ability and knowledge of technological skills.

It is imperative for society to move past these stereotypes and appreciate that older workers do make valuable social and economic contributions through their skills, knowledge and experience.

We must ensure that all Singaporeans are safe and respected, regardless of their age, ethnicity, beliefs or background.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)