By 2030, 83,000 seniors will be living alone in Singapore - almost 1.8 times that of 2016. This is a highly worrying trend as seniors are vulnerable to social isolation, which fuels depression and suicidal tendencies. Elderly suicide numbers have been rising in recent years, peaking at 129 last year.
As seniors grow older, their physical health worsens and they get tormented by more illnesses. Fear of becoming a burden stops them from asking family and friends for help. To make it worse, many also lose their mobility and have trouble leaving their homes. This results in social disconnection, isolating them from the world. Alone with no support, they gradually lose all hope in life and start “waiting for death to come”.
As Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) executive director Christine Wong says, “It is very worrying that many elderly are turning to suicide as the only choice to end their pain and struggles when they should be enjoying the lustre of their golden years.”
These seniors spent their youth building up the place we call home. Now, they should be enjoying the fruits for their labour in their golden years, with us giving them the full support they need. In this article, let us explore some community initiatives that aim to engage the seniors around the neighbourhood.
1. GoodLife! Makan
The void deck of Block 52 Marine Terrace looks different from the usually empty void decks we are all used to. In fact, the vividly coloured void deck boasts a communal kitchen with seniors cooking up a storm!
Image Source: Straits Times
This initiative by Monfort Care hopes to create a space for seniors to create bonds and rediscover their potential with the help of the community. After observing that some seniors have become overly cocooned in their flats, social workers started GoodLife! Makan to draw seniors out and engage them with the community.
So, instead of providing meal delivery from, say, a volunteer-run soup kitchen, social workers told the seniors to go downstairs to cook lunch themselves with their neighbours. In this fresh model, seniors will decide many things among themselves:
The day’s food menu
How the roles should be split.
Who purchases ingredients from the nearby market
Who to prepare the ingredients, who to cook, who to clean up, etc.
And with only 2 or 3 assisting staff on-site, seniors feel a greater sense of ownership and see themselves as participants and contributors rather than passive recipients.
Since establishment, GoodLife! Makan has seen more socially isolated seniors joining in. More than just food, it acts as a social glue for the seniors, allowing them to share experiences, knowledge, space, and kinship.
2. Community Befriending Programme (CBP)
The CBP connects volunteer befrienders with seniors within their own neighbourhoods. By now, we all know that issues caused by old age, or even disabilities, put stress on seniors, and many of them simply need a listening ear but sadly, have none.
Image Source: I Feel Young SG
This is where volunteer befrienders can step in. Befrienders play a part in seniors’ emotional and psychological wellbeing, by spending time with them and listening to their problems. The scheduled visits are, of course, aimed at keeping loneliness and social isolation at bay. Over time, regular companionship often develops into enduring friendships that last.
Other than simple bonding, befrienders also act as eyes and ears so that seniors’ needs can be better understood and supported. With their intimate interaction, they can provide timely feedback to social workers when seniors need help. They also help to keep a lookout for seniors’ health, raising potential health concerns so that they can be treated in time.
With Covid-19 ravaging many social services, befriending seniors in-person may not always be the most feasible option. Enter CareLine, a 24/7 telecare service launched by Changi General Hospital and supported by Temasek Foundation.
CareLine aims to provide stay-alone seniors with health and social support. Seniors registered for CareLine can call for help if they fall ill or even if they are lonely and want someone to chat with. CareLine staff will also help coordinate the help they need by linking them up to the necessary agencies.
Image Source: Changi General Hospital Facebook
In 2019, CareLine was even upgraded into an app! Needless to say, the app has improved service access, simplified the process, and shortened the time to help. Other than social support, the GPS function on the app allows CareLine staff to locate the seniors and provide medical support when needed.
What about seniors without smartphones but who are willing to learn, you might ask? As part of this initiative, Temasek Foundation provided vulnerable seniors with more than 1,100 smartphones pre-installed with the CareLine app since last year. Currently, CareLine receives about 100 calls daily from the 3600 seniors using the service.
You can play a part too
These pioneers spent their youth building up the place we call home and we should show them our gratitude. Everyone can play a part -- look out for the seniors staying near you and have a small chat with them -- they’ll always appreciate it! Swapie is a gifting-for-good platform that allows donors to buy gifts (as requested by the beneficiaries) for their chosen beneficiaries.
Top Image credit: SMU