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Rehab therapists in ageing Singapore

Janice Tai on 08 Mar 2015

The Straits Times


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MR DOLKIFLI Shariff was jogging with his son last year when the 61-year-old playfully decided to "show off" and race ahead.


He ended up with a slipped disc and was paralysed from the waist down after surgery.


The former warehouse delivery driver, who had led an active lifestyle, became someone who could not turn himself over in bed.


"I want to get back to work by year-end, so I have been going for therapy twice weekly without fail," he said.


As Singapore's population ages, it is seeing more people with age-related conditions that affect their ability to function.


This has led to a rapid rise in demand for therapy services, say voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), which run day-rehabilitation centres in the community.


SPD, a group which represents the disabled, serves 550 people at its three rehab centres, up from 400 five years ago.


The number of patients attending therapy sessions at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore has doubled to 200 in the past five years.


The Asian Women's Welfare Association (Awwa) helped 200 people with rehabilitation last year, a 25 per cent increase from the year before.


At these centres, physiotherapists, who help patients restore their physical abilities, work with occupational therapists, who guide them in performing daily tasks.


Rehabilitation is important for patients after discharge as muscles deteriorate rapidly without regular training. Most patients are adults and the elderly, who have suffered strokes, spinal-cord injuries or hip and other fractures.


Some are turning up for rehab because of rising awareness.


"Caregivers now recognise the value of rehabilitation and often convince their loved ones to go for the sessions," said SPD senior assistant director Jeffrey Chin.


However, many patients who stopped going for rehabilitation said they did so because no one was available to take them for their sessions plus, of course, their limited mobility.


Cost is also a factor. Higher subsidies for transport and therapy over the years have addressed some of these concerns.


Last year, subsidies for therapy services were raised by 37 per cent. It costs about $70 for a therapy session and $40 for a round-trip pick-up, before subsidy, at SPD.


To meet rising demand, VWOs have had to address space, cost and manpower constraints.


The Handicaps Welfare Association hopes to hire four more therapists as its current team of six already have their hands full serving 200 regular clients.


With a limited pool of therapists, the social services sector is trying to address the problem by setting up therapy hubs.


Singapore has nearly 2,000 fully-registered physio-, occupational and speech-language therapists, but most of them work in hospitals.


Last year, Awwa moved to a new day-rehabilitation centre two blocks away from its old premises in Ang Mo Kio. It has a third more space to accommodate more exercise machines.


"We also bought adjustable equipment that can be used by those with or without disabilities," said Mr Sairam Azad, assistant director at Awwa.


The equipment, however, is pricey. Each machine can cost from a few thousand dollars to $20,000.


Commercial gyms have stepped in to help. True Fitness, for instance, donated over $50,000 worth of machines to 10 VWOs over the last few months.


Said Mr Dolkifli: "I am motivated to go (for rehab as) I see day-to-day improvements (in me) and there are always new exercises to learn."


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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