THE senior citizen may at first be there to take part in activities, but later volunteers to keep an eye on other old folk in the area.
This growing interest in helping out – amid a rise in the number of elderly people living alone – is welcomed by voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) that cater to the elderly.
They say one big plus point is that a senior can better appreciate the needs of another senior, compared to a younger volunteer, thereby making for a more impactful match-up.
The number of elderly people living alone is likely to increase to 83,000 by 2030 – up from 35,000 now. This number does not include seniors who are left alone at home when their children head out for work during the day.
The figure was mentioned by Madam Halimah Yacob, Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports, at an ageing forum last Wednesday.
“It is important that when the elderly are living alone, there’s someone to pop in and say ‘How are you?’,” she said.
At the Asian Women’s Welfare Association (AWWA) Seniors Activity Centre, there are now more than 20 volunteers who are all seniors. Five years ago, seniors looking out for each other were non-existent.
“We encourage seniors to look out for each other, as they are all part of the community,” said Ms Yu Qinghui, acting centre manager at the Ang Mo Kio facility.
“The neighbours, because they are in close proximity, are often the first people they call when these seniors who live alone need help.”
These neighbours usually drop by once or twice a day to keep tabs on their elderly neighbours, ensuring that medication is taken, for example, or relaying information in mail that they receive.
Retiree Lim Heng Chuan, 63, has been keeping an eye out for Madam Ho Ah Chin, 87, since 2005. Both live alone in the same housing block in Indus Road.
They were paired up by staff at Indus Moral Care, a seniors activity centre at the foot of their block. Madam Ho spends time there while Mr Lim is a volunteer.
Every morning and evening, he drops by her one-room flat to, for example, “remind her to take her medication”, he said. Sometimes he buys dinner for her, and when he cooks, he shares the food with her. Once a week, he mops her flat.
When the centre organises outings such as to the Singapore Flyer, he makes sure she boards and alights the bus safely, and waits for her outside the toilet when needed.
“I don’t find it a chore looking out for Madam Ho,” said Mr Lim, a former driver.
Staff at the centre have noticed that if he helps another senior, Madam Ho sometimes gets jealous and throws a tantrum.
“But we talk to her and explain that Mr Lim needs to help others too,” said centre manager Michael Sim, who added that the pairing system is done for elderly residents in the block.
“Sometimes we cannot take care of all the elderly, so this pairing system allows the seniors – most of whom live alone – to look out for each other,” he said.
Ms Joan Pereira, director for active ageing and family life division at the People’s Association, is all for seniors who reach out to their counterparts. “Doing this will make for an active, vibrant and cohesive senior community, where neighbours look out for one another, care for one another and share in one another’s joys and sorrows.”
Retired nurse Yogeswary Rajaratnam, 71, is only too happy to do that. She makes home visits to three elderly folk who are all in their 70s and live on their own, within 3km of her home in Kebun Baru.
“I drop in on them weekly, see that the home is clean and they have enough food to eat,” she said. “I also encourage them to go for exercise to stay healthy and I’m there to remind them about their medical appointments.”
She feels that because she is of the same age as they are, she can understand them better. “You must know how to understand their problems and be more a listener than a talker.”
She knows that her visits mean something to them. “Sometimes, when I tell them I have to go off for the day, they will ask, ‘Sister, why can’t you stay longer?’,” said Madam Yogeswary.
AWWA’s Ms Yu said that as the elderly share a common lingo, they are better suited to be paired together.
“It also helps to boost their self-esteem that they can still care for another person,” she added.
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