From welfare to funeral services: Seniors in Singapore who live alone get help

Singapore Casket's assistant general manager said cases of the elderly dying alone are unpredictable.
Singapore Casket's assistant general manager said cases of the elderly dying alone are unpredictable.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Singapore Casket, one of Singapore's oldest and largest funeral services companies, has been assisting in more funerals for seniors who died alone, this year, it said.

For the first eight months of 2021, it has held 36 such funerals, which is more than half of the 47 cases they handled in 2020.

They had 38 such funerals in 2019.

Last Saturday, the decaying remains of an elderly woman, 74, were found in her Bedok North Avenue 2 flat. She had not been seen for over a week, and neighbours detected a rotting smell.

Last December, The Straits Times reported the police had appealed for the next-of-kin to claim the bodies of about 48 people in 2020, through notices posted on their website.

Most of them were above 60 years old, and they died in places like hospitals, welfare homes for the destitute and in their own homes.

And according to the police's website, for the first eight months of this year, the police put up 26 notices appealing for the next of kin of seniors above 61 years old.

Most of them died in places like hospitals and nursing homes.

Singapore Casket's assistant general manager, Mr Calvin Tang, said cases of the elderly dying alone are unpredictable. The company might receive one to two cases one month and eight to 10 the next month.

Mr Tang added that it is usually alerted via hospitals, social workers, religious organisations and senior activity centres. They will then provide free funeral services if the deceased had financial difficulties.

He said: "We will not check their background because we truly believe people will not cheat us in such matters. As long as we know they need help, we will definitely help them. It is our way of contributing to society."

Direct Funeral Services' founder, Mr Roland Tay, said it handles about 20 to 30 of such cases each year and is usually informed by social workers or a relative of the elderly.

Ms Yvonne Ho, general manager of After Life Funeral Service, said of the total number of elderly funerals they handle each year, 10 to 20 per cent of them were seniors without relatives or friends.

Eldercare service providers usually rely on befriending services and regular check-ins to access seniors.

With Covid-19, they now use technology more. Alexandra Hospital's Temi, the robot which visits non-ambulatory elders in Queenstown, is one example.


i-Ok @ Lb is a programme piloted by Lions Befrienders that equips seniors with a special tablet to update service providers of their conditions daily. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Another is i-Ok @ Lb, a programme piloted by Lions Befrienders, a charity that provides eldercare support, this year. It equips seniors with a special tablet to update service providers of their conditions daily. Service providers would check on them if the button was not pressed after a stipulated period of time.

It hopes to equip 300 seniors with this tablet by December.

But there are challenges.

Senior consultant Santhosh Kumar Seetharaman, head of the Healthy Ageing Programme at Alexandra Hospital, said the problem for such technology is not access but instead, delivery.

He said: "Although we can make technology available, the uptake will depend on the seniors' restrictions, support with technology and acceptance."

As befrienders can visit seniors only once or twice a week, social services agencies believe other stakeholders must step in to ensure seniors are cared for daily.

Dr Angie Chew, CEO of Brahms Centre, a charity that provides mindfulness programmes alongside eldercare programmes, believes a strong neighbourly community can provide this daily support for age-in-place seniors.

She said: "Everyone can be involved in being neighbourly, looking out and caring for each other. We need to learn to be comfortable in being sociable."


Madam Yap Lian Hua has strong support from social service agencies who check on her weekly. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Madam Yap Lian Hua, 78, lives alone in a three-room flat in Jalan Bukit Ho Swee and says she is not worried as she has strong support from social service agencies which check on her weekly.

She said: "I've lived here for 50 years and my neighbours say 'hello' to me daily."

Madam Teow Swee Cheow, 89, a Lions Befrienders volunteer, knows of seniors dying alone from accidents.

She said: "Sometimes you can just go to the toilet at night, then you slip and fall and have the neighbour find you the next day."


Mdm Teow Swee Cheow (left), 89, the oldest volunteer with Lions Befrienders, visiting Mdm Yap Lian Hua, 78, retiree, at her residence at Jalan Bukit Ho Swee. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
 

Ms Grace Lee, executive director of Sage Counselling Centre, said: "I heard of a senior who would rather sit at the void deck (before Covid-19) than to be at home so that if he fell ill, someone would be around to help him."

Managing director of Ang Chin Moh Funeral Directors, Mr Ang Ziqian, said especially for those who have few or no family connections, they should plan their funerals.

He said: "It is everyone's responsibility to plan our own funeral because our funeral is our own responsibility. It is only when you plan it now that you are able to live well and leave well."

Previous cases

Nov 23, 2020

The remains of Madam Lily Loh, who was believed to have been around 80 years old, and her dog were found in her condominium unit at The Shore Residences almost two years after she was last seen.

The police found their remains.

Jan 29, 2019

The body of an elderly man was found in his flat at Block 440 Tampines Street 43 after his neighbours downstairs saw blood dripping through the ceiling of their master bedroom.

Jan 25, 2016

The body of Mr Soh Ah Seng, 82, was found in his one-room flat in Geylang Bahru after his next-door neighbour noticed a foul smell. When the police found him, he had been dead for at least two days.

Jan 7, 2009

The skeletal remains of Mr Tan Cheng Soon, 69, were found in his rental flat in Jalan Bukit Merah by the Singapore Civil Defence Force after his neighbour called the police about a foul smell. Mr Tan was believed to have been dead for six to 12 months.