Happy way to boost frail seniors' well-being

Healthy ageing programme to be expanded to include nearly 100 more sites islandwide

A group of seniors taking part in the Healthy Ageing Promotion Programme For You. The programme has helped many seniors become less frail and have better memory scores, researchers have found. They also improved their walking speed and balance and we
A group of seniors taking part in the Healthy Ageing Promotion Programme For You. The programme has helped many seniors become less frail and have better memory scores, researchers have found. They also improved their walking speed and balance and were less likely to fall or become depressed. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

A physical exercise programme which has helped frail senior citizens improve their mental well-being, memory, functional ability and strength is to be expanded across Singapore.

The Healthy Ageing Promotion Programme For You (Happy) will be extended from 37 sites - like senior activity centres and void decks - to 130 over the next three years.

Researchers studied 115 people aged 60 and over who were frail or had underlying memory issues and found that, after taking part in the programme, more than half had become less frail while 70 per cent had improved walking speed and balance and were better at standing up from a chair. Nearly three-quarters of them (74 per cent) also had better memory scores, and 40 per cent had become less depressed.

The number of falls was also reduced by 40 per cent.

These results were released yesterday by the National University Health System (NUHS).

The programme, run by National University Hospital (NUH), has been adapted from a scheme designed by the National Centre for Geriatrics and Gerontology in Nagoya, Japan. Participants simultaneously perform cognitive and physical "dual-task" exercises.

For example, one involves marching on the spot while counting backwards from 30 and clapping on every third number.

The programme also seeks to get seniors to take charge of their health, such as by teaching them to take their own blood pressure.

"Frailty and memory decline, in particular, are two aspects of ageing that are reversible. Our data from Happy shows that older adults who participate in the multi-domain programme, and are physically and mentally engaged, have better outcomes in both of these areas," said Associate Professor Reshma Merchant, who leads the programme. She also heads the Division of Geriatric Medicine at NUH.

One in 16 Singaporeans aged over 60 is frail. One in 10 has dementia.

Among over-85s, one in four is frail and has dementia.

Happy also encourages seniors to volunteer as trainers to lead the exercises and share health and nutritional tips with fellow seniors.

Since the programme started in August 2017, it has had more than 700 participants, and over 270 volunteers have attended the training sessions, of whom over 130 have been certified to lead the exercises by the programme therapist.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong joined participants in the dual-task exercises at Choa Chu Kang Community Club yesterday.

Madam Ahsathiamal Subramanian, 64, who is both a Happy participant and volunteer, said the programme won her over as she saw improvement in other frail seniors.

"We also formed an emotionally supportive group and met new friends," said the retired vice-principal, recounting how her fellow participants supported her after the death of her husband last year.

For more information or to sign up as a volunteer, e-mail: healthy_ageing@nuhs.edu.sg

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2019, with the headline Happy way to boost frail seniors' well-being. Subscribe