Seniors felt less socially satisfied, more isolated during Covid-19 circuit breaker period: Survey

For senior citizens living with others, satisfaction levels fell to pre-circuit breaker levels of those living alone. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Social isolation during the circuit breaker period resulted in lower social satisfaction levels for senior citizens, according to results from a monthly survey of about 7,500 people aged between 55 and 75 here.

Social satisfaction levels dipped by about 4 per cent in May when compared with data from January.

In particular, for senior citizens living with others, satisfaction levels fell to the pre-circuit breaker levels of peers living alone, while those living alone saw even lower satisfaction levels as safe distancing measures made it more difficult to find support from friends and the community.

As of July, while satisfaction levels have rebounded after the circuit breaker period, which was from April 7 to June 1, they are not back to the levels they were at before.

The Covid-19-related findings from the May to July iterations of the longitudinal Singapore Life Panel survey, done by Singapore Management University's (SMU's) Centre for Research on Successful Ageing (Rosa), were revealed at a media briefing on Friday (Aug 28) by centre director Paulin Straughan.

As Singapore's population ages, the proportion of those who remain single and live alone will increase, said Prof Straughan, a sociologist and former Nominated Member of Parliament.

She added that society will have to be redesigned such that every Singaporean, regardless of circumstances, can look forward to growing old gracefully.

She suggested that living arrangements include an enclave of social support for the senior citizens even while they live in the privacy of their own homes.

The findings also suggested that a digital divide affected the well-being of senior citizens, with those who used communication technology - such as phone calls and text and smartphone apps to message and video-call others, as well as social media - reporting higher levels of satisfaction and well-being and a lower sense of social isolation.

Prof Straughan noted that Singapore has to help seniors familiarise with technology to reduce their sense of isolation.

The survey findings also showed that older Singaporeans who experienced unforeseen income loss during the pandemic reported lower life satisfaction levels.

Many of those in their late 60s and 70s continue to be concerned about employment and employability, said Prof Straughan.

"We've talked about upskilling and rescaling and that's important for the younger mid-lifers. However, for older adults, I do think that we need to take a more novel approach," she said.

She urged parties involved to think about curating opportunities to leverage the years of experience and the unique skills of older Singaporeans instead.

It was also announced on Friday that non-profit foundation Ngee Ann Kongsi would contribute $15 million over seven years to SMU to support research on the well-being of the elderly and successful ageing in Singapore.

The amount is the largest research funding that the university has received from a non-government organisation and is also Ngee Ann Kongsi's largest donation for research to date.

About $1.5 million of the funding will go towards helping Rosa to translate research into policy insights this year. Rosa was previously known as the Centre for Research on the Economics of Ageing.

In view of the survey's findings, the research team will meet representatives from the Government and social service agencies this month to assess the Covid-19 policies implemented, and look into strengthening current initiatives and the development of possible new approaches to tackling issues experienced by the elderly.

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, who was guest of honour at the media briefing, said that research in this area is very important, given that by 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be 65 or older.

"We need to ensure that the quality of life for those who are ageing is looked after... It's not just about the healthcare system. It's also about living life healthily, physically and from a mental health perspective, being engaged," said Mr Tan, who is also chairman of the People's Action Party Seniors Group.

Prof Straughan said: "What we want to do is work together with government and related agencies which have a similar mission, and that is to advance the well-being of older Singaporeans and to advance propositions that can help us... to spend more of our extended lifespan in a healthy state."

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