A new type of serviced Housing Board home for seniors, where residents can ask for help if they need but still remain independent, will be rolled out in Bukit Batok in May, as more projects are being tested here to give people the option to age at home.
These assisted-living flats come with a mandatory service package, comprising 24/7 emergency response and an on-site community manager.
Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said in Parliament yesterday: "The community manager will monitor the health status of residents, and link them up with relevant care services according to their needs.
"The community manager will also curate programmes to foster a stronger sense of neighbourliness, and residents can look forward to mingling at the communal spaces on every floor - much like the good old kampung days."
The flats will give those aged 65 and above an option for independent living, with care available if needed, she said.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong first announced the plan for these assisted-living flats in Parliament a year ago.
Someone opting for this is not just buying a flat, but a package of care services tied to it, he said.
His ministry and the Health Ministry have since held 14 focus group discussions with seniors, service providers and healthcare professionals at specially constructed mock-up flats and communal living rooms. Single seniors who live alone were particularly keen on the concept.
Feedback included putting in a movable partition between the kitchen and sleeping areas, said Dr Khor.
"We are also exploring additional care service options to support frail seniors, such as after-hours care."
About 160 such units of 32 sq m and with elder-friendly fittings will be sold in a build-to-order tender. Planning for a private assisted living pilot is also under way, she said.
Associate Professor Fung John Chye, director at the Centre for Ageing Research in the Environment at the National University of Singapore's School of Design and Environment, said assisted-living flats help fill a critical gap in senior housing needs. "At the moment, you either live at home or you go to a nursing home. There's a need for something in between."
Potential care services such as help with bathing, feeding or taking the elderly to the hospital for their check-ups can assist them to live as independently as possible at home.
Other public housing projects for seniors here, such as two-room flexi flats and the Kampung Admiralty HDB project in Woodlands, do not come with a service package.
"One of the key challenges among older people is social isolation. They self-isolate themselves at home and that has an impact on their mental state. This (assisted living) concept could be one step to address this," said Prof Fung.
Residents should have some say on how the communal space is used, otherwise it could be appropriated by one or two persons or be underutilised, he said.
"We don't know the details yet. For instance, can they build a fish tank ... there? Are residents allowed to maintain it?" He said such spaces must also cater to inter-generational use, so that the project is not seen as a geriatric enclave.