Coronavirus pandemic

DBS staff to befriend 1,000 seniors virtually to boost morale

Following successful pilot sessions, the initiative will see 1,000 at-risk seniors interact with a similar number of DBS Bank volunteers. PHOTO: LIONS BEFRIENDERS
Following successful pilot sessions, the initiative will see 1,000 at-risk seniors interact with a similar number of DBS Bank volunteers. PHOTO: LIONS BEFRIENDERS

One thousand senior citizens, who are mostly living in rental flats, will be interacting with a similar number of DBS Bank employees in virtual befriending sessions next month and in August.

The sessions, which are aimed at helping the elderly cope with social isolation and loneliness, will include conversations and other virtual activities like sing-along sessions, simple home-gardening projects, as well as online games, DBS and Lions Befrienders (LB) said in a joint statement yesterday.

Singapore's largest virtual befriending volunteer initiative will be called LB Virtual Befriending@SAC (Senior Activity Centre).

The programme has been launched officially following the successful culmination of pilot sessions run by both organisations since early this month.

In a typical session, a senior would be paired with up to two DBS volunteers, and they would interact with one another in an hour-long session via videoconferencing tools, such as Webex and Zoom, on tablet computers provided to the seniors at LB centres. The bank will also donate 40 tablets for LB's use.

The programme could potentially be extended to the 6,000 at-risk seniors served by LB, most of whom live in rental flats and are on financial assistance schemes.

Since February, LB has conducted twice weekly check-in calls and says it has noticed a gradual decline in the seniors' emotional and mental health.

During the eight-week circuit breaker, LB was alerted to four attempted suicides - up from the average of one every three to six months prior to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Despite the recent reopening of nine SACs, LB continues to face challenges in giving visiting seniors the full attention they require, owing to constraints on the number of on-site staff.

"While we have reopened our doors, we found that our seniors long for human interaction more than anything else, especially when socialising is currently not encouraged," said LB chairman Anthony Tay. "This LB Virtual Befriending@SAC programme adds a bright spot to their day and gives them a sense of purpose as they embrace and adopt technology into their lives. We plan to continue to grow and expand the virtual befriending programme even after the guidelines on social distancing are relaxed."

Mr Shee Tse Koon, DBS Singapore country head, added: "We can all empathise with the emotional impact of social isolation. Pre-Covid-19, this was something that many seniors in Singapore had already been experiencing involuntarily, and the lack of online access or smart devices among seniors is now making it even more challenging for them to connect with others... Our hope is this initiative will go on to catalyse greater societal awareness around at-risk seniors and action among fellow Singaporeans."

This befriending programme is a continuation of DBS' initiatives to serve LB's seniors over the past five years. Since 2015, more than 3,600 DBS volunteers have put in over 17,000 hours to reach out to 3,000 seniors via activities such as grocery shopping and board game sessions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2020, with the headline 'DBS staff to befriend 1,000 seniors virtually to boost morale'. Print Edition | Subscribe