TTSH launches volunteer programme for seniors, who will be taught simple clinical skills

(From left) Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) senior physiotherapist Jaclyn Tan, volunteer Lim Thiam Beng and Madam Chong, a patient who underwent a total knee replacement surgery. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

SINGAPORE - Having gone through knee replacement surgery two years ago, Mr Lim Thiam Beng wants to help other elderly patients recover faster.

Mr Lim, 54, a part-time handyman, will soon be learning from physiotherapists about how to help patients recovering from the surgery in doing simple bed exercises.

He is one of 70 people, aged 50 and older, who have expressed interest in a volunteer programme for seniors at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).

Over the next two years, these volunteers will be helping eye clinic and total knee replacement patients, the hospital said on Friday (Oct 19). Volunteers will also be trained to prevent delirium in elderly patients by orientating their environment, helping them to sit up, encouraging them to drink water and engaging them with activities like puzzles.

The pilot programme aims to recruit 160 senior volunteers, who will undergo training courses developed by TTSH's healthcare staff and its Centre for Health Activation (CHA), a training and research institute for volunteers.

This programme differs from other kinds of senior volunteerism which involve befriending or way-finding activities, because volunteers will be taught para-clinical skills like taking down the patient's medical history and demonstrating the right way to apply eye drops, said Dr Mark Chan, CHA's clinical adviser.

"Seniors are more aware of the medical issues and have much better rapport with patients, compared with some of the younger, inexperienced volunteers," he added.

The programme was launched on Friday at the Singapore Patient Conference held at the hospital, in which more than 1,800 patients, community partners and healthcare professionals shared insights on how to create a better healthcare system.

Mr Chan Heng Kee, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health, attended the conference.

Called the Temasek Foundation Cares - Champs (Centre for Health Activation Mobilises Para-Clinical Seniors), it runs from September this year to August 2020, with 13,300 frail seniors expected to benefit from it.

Potential volunteers will be interviewed. Those who are selected have to attend a Volunteer Induction Programme and must be able to commit for at least six months.

Temasek Foundation Cares, a non-profit philanthropic organisation, has injected $293,000 in funds.

Dr Kelvin Tan, a consultant at TTSH's Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, said volunteers can motivate patients to do the exercises in between their daily physiotherapy sessions. This can help shorten their hospital stay, which averages around five days.

A patient who wanted to be known only as Madam Chong underwent a total knee replacement surgery on Monday and said she is open to having volunteers guide her in exercises.

"If they know how to do it properly, I'm okay with it," said the 72-year-old retiree.

Dr Chan, who also heads TTSH's Department of Geriatric Medicine, said that there are future plans to offer the volunteer training programmes under the National Silver Academy, which provides seniors with courses from tertiary institutions.

Other healthcare institutions like SingHealth and the National University Hospital (NUH) said that the elderly make up a sizeable proportion of their volunteers, who do not perform clinical roles.

More than 70 per cent of volunteers for some programmes at Singapore General Hospital, Changi General Hospital and SingHealth Polyclinics are aged 50 and above, said a SingHealth spokesman.

They help to serve meals to patients and feed them. They also befriend patients, engage them with games, and guide them in using self-service kiosks to make payments.

Meanwhile, NUH has elderly volunteers in its Silver Connection Programme where volunteers engage elderly patients in activities such as colouring and shape-sorting, as well as in its hair grooming and cutting service for patients.

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