Hougang day care centre opens makeshift store to engage seniors bored from staying at home amid Covid-19 surge

NTUC Health Senior Day Care Staff New Lay Yeow assists a senior with a sorting activity. PHOTO: NTUC HEALTH

SINGAPORE - A makeshift store sits at a corner of the NTUC Health Day Centre for Seniors (Ci Yuan) in Hougang Avenue 9, for seniors who miss the shopping experience.

The centre had set it up in April, after learning that some of the 60 seniors who visit it were bored from staying at home to remain safe amid the surge in Covid-19 cases here.

Centre supervisor New Lay Yeow, 52, said: "The seniors may miss going out to buy things for their family during this period, so we came up with the idea of setting up a booth in the centre for them."

Masks on, the seniors first take part in activities such as colouring and stretch band exercises, to keep them occupied. They are awarded a point for participating in each activity.

These points can then be used to redeem items such as toilet rolls, biscuits, canned food, handicrafts made by the seniors, umbrellas and thermal bottles, for between 20 and 1,000 points.

Centre manager Yang Zou Fang, 41, said: "To encourage our seniors to continue with centre activities and stay engaged during Covid-19, we also award them points when they come to the centre."

The centre hopes to run the store once every month, from its current once every three months schedule.

Mr Philip Lingesvaran Alagan, who has been with the centre since 2017, is currently unvaccinated.

His doctor had advised him against getting vaccinated due to his diabetes and high blood pressure. He also suffered a stroke in 2006.

The 59-year-old, who is currently unemployed, turns up at the centre every weekday to participate in activities, including the stretch band exercises and weightlifting with water bottles.

He currently has 400 points and is saving up for a thermal bottle, which can be redeemed for 1,000 points.

"It's great, and everyone at the centre can join in and talk about how they are going to spend their points," he said.

NTUC Health Senior Day Care Staff Yang Zou Fang (left) and New Lay Yeow at the NTUC Health Day Centre for Seniors. PHOTO: NTUC HEALTH

Almost all of the seniors are fully vaccinated. For the others, the care staff have been educating, responding to queries and seeking consent from them and their caregivers to facilitate vaccination and booster shots.

It is about striking a balance, the centre said - keeping the seniors safe and updated with Covid-19 news and measures while ensuring they remain active.

Ms Yang said: "We tell them to not go out so often after they leave the centre because some of them like to go to the coffee shop to be with friends."

Mr Philip said the daily news-sharing sessions and reminders by staff at the centre have helped.

"I have learnt to keep my mask on when I go out, practice good hygiene and also try not to go out unless necessary," he added.

About one in four residents in Hougang are aged 60 and older, government data shows.

The estate has had a number of scares. Hougang Avenue 8 was a Covid-19 cluster twice this year - at Block 506, with 13 residents, and at the Giant supermarket at Block 683, where several employees tested positive.

A new Covid-19 cluster has emerged in the nearby Institute of Mental Health, with 116 cases as at Oct 25.

Residents queue to collect free groceries at a HDB flat void deck in Hougang on Oct 22, 2021. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

This is why Dr Tan Heng Kwang, who has been running the Neighbourhood Medical Clinic in Hougang Avenue 8 for 33 years, is staying alert.

The 66-year-old said about 20 per cent of his patients who are seniors are unvaccinated. So he makes it his daily routine to educate them, by using childhood immunisation as an example.

He said he tells them: "You have kids or grandchildren right? When they go for the measles vaccine, they will also get fever, be unwell for a few days and develop rashes."

It is also important to educate their children as some think the seniors do not need to be vaccinated because they are home-bound, added Dr Tan.

Community groups like the Man Fut Tong Welfare Society have also joined in the efforts to keep seniors safe and engaged.

The society's vice-president - Madam Carolynne Ng, 49 - said the organisation has been giving groceries and food to residents since 2018.

They are currently helping about 500 families in Hougang. About 80 per cent of the residents they assist are seniors.

(From left) Mr Richard Tan, Mr Joshua Tan and Man Fut Tong Welfare Society vice-president Carolynne Ng at a food distribution point in Hougang on Oct 22, 2021. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

In June, when the Government announced that not enough seniors were getting vaccinated, she adjusted the programme.

Madam Ng said: "We asked them to show us their vaccination status to receive their meals.

"If they are not vaccinated, we will not reject them, but will remind them to be vaccinated by next week. We tell them we can help them make an appointment as well."

Her son, Joshua Tan, and a group of 10 young volunteers, also came up with a membership card system in early May to prevent overcrowding during the collection, track the residents' vaccination statuses and ensure their safety.

Those who are fully vaccinated are issued a sticker, which is pasted at the top of the card. The cards also help in contact tracing.

"We write down the numbers on the card (before collection), so that in the situation where one of the residents tests positive later, we are able to track the time they made their collection and trace back to the people who queued in front of and behind them," said Joshua, a 14-year-old student who started volunteering in June last year.

Cleaning supervisor Sim Kew Beng, 63, has been volunteering with his wife since they moved to the estate in 2014.

Mr Sim, who has taken his booster shot, has accompanied more than 10 senior residents to get their shots.

Volunteers Sim Kew Beng (right) and his wife Saidah Ismail distributing groceries to residents at a HDB flat void deck in Hougang on Oct 22, 2021. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

"It is important not to scold them... but tell them a lot of people have taken it, so there is nothing to be afraid of.

He said that as a senior himself, he feels an obligation as well.

"We are seniors and it is also our part to encourage them to go for the vaccine," said Mr Sim.

• There are others working to keep neighbours safe from Covid-19. Tell ST about the experience in your estate.

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