SINGAPORE - Seniors will continue to get more help and programmes to age in place, stay in good health and receive support from care networks, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor.
Dr Khor said the Health Ministry is strengthening efforts in three areas: empowering seniors to stay healthy and active, enabling communities of care, and evolving new models of ageing in place.
Singapore has made good progress on initiatives under the $3 billion Action Plan for Successful Ageing that was launched in 2015, she told the House on Wednesday (Feb 13).
"As we continue to make progress on these initiatives, we need to plan ahead for successive generations of seniors, who have different needs and aspirations," she said.
"The Merdeka Generation seniors, for example, are living longer and healthier, and are more educated, skilled and IT savvy, compared to our Pioneers," Dr Khor added.
She was responding to one of the two motions put forth by MPs, on the issue of ageing and on support for caregivers. A total of 25 MPs spoke on both motions, which were taken concurrently.
Besides empowering seniors, Dr Khor said the Government also wants to provide them with opportunities for personal development and community participation.
One way is to expand the reach of preventive health services to seniors in the community, she said.
Dr Khor cited a nationwide screening programme by the Health Ministry and Temasek Foundation Cares launched last year, which helped seniors get screening for hearing, eyesight and oral health at low cost, or for free.
Project Silver Screen has benefited about 45,000 seniors since last January, she noted.
Since 2014, a group of about 3,000 volunteers, called Silver Generational (SG) Ambassadors, have also made more than a million home visits and engaged about 450,000 seniors aged 65 and above, Dr Khor added.
During the home visits, these volunteers assess the seniors' health and encourage them to participate in preventive health and active ageing programmes in their neighbourhoods.
To get seniors moving, the Health Ministry is also building larger daycare centres which offer a range of active ageing and care services, Dr Khor said.
Five such Active Ageing Hubs have been opened so far, with another five more to be ready by 2020.
Dr Khor also called for suggestions from the House to get more men to take part in active ageing programmes. Only one in five participants is a man, according to anecdotal observations from community partners.
On the second area of enabling communities of care, Dr Khor said the Community Networks for Seniors (CNS) initiative has been expanded to 89 neighbourhoods and areas.
The CNS involves government bodies, voluntary welfare organisations and volunteers teaming up to visit seniors. This helps to "close the last-mile delivery of active ageing programmes and care services, and provide timely and coordinated care for our seniors when needed", she noted.
Responding to Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) and Mr Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC), Dr Khor said that while the number of elderly suicides has increased in recent years in tandem with Singapore's ageing population, suicide death rates among Singaporeans aged 60 and above have declined from 22.4 per 100,000 residents in 2007 to 16.4 in 2017.
"Nonetheless, each suicide is one too many," she said, adding that the Government will strengthen efforts to proactively reach out to those at risk.
"Our SG Ambassadors today are trained to identify seniors at risk of social isolation when they make their home visits, and will proactively link them up to community befrienders in their neighbourhood who can check in on them regularly," she said.
Care Line, a 24-hour senior helpline which will be expanded nationwide, also calls seniors regularly to check whether they are well and provides urgent assistance if seniors call in, distressed, said Dr Khor.
The senior minister of state also spelt out ways in which the Government will explore new models of ageing in place, to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations.
She said that the Build-Own-Lease (BOL) framework and funding model for nursing homes will continue to be reviewed, to ensure that residents can access good and appropriate care at affordable fees.
Under the BOL, the Government pays for the capital costs of development, and tenders out the operating rights to both private operators and voluntary welfare organisations so they do not have to bear the upfront capital costs.
Moving forward, Dr Khor said the ministry will explore new concepts of ageing in place.
One such programme is Care Close to Home, which is offered at 15 sites across Singapore, serving more that 3,500 clients.
Under it, seniors in rental flats can be cared for while continuing to live in their own homes. People from nearby Senior Activity Centres provide help for daily activities such as bathing and housekeeping, while monitoring the seniors' medical conditions.
The Health Ministry is working closely with the National Development Ministry to develop new assisted living options that include care services, and more details will be announced during the Budget debate, she said.
Concluding her speech, Dr Khor said: "Longevity is not a curse but a blessing and offers us possibilities to live more meaningful and productive lives.
"As future cohorts of seniors are more educated and skilled, there is no better time to take advantage of our longer life years than now."