Helping Singapore's seniors cope with Covid-19 outbreak
The coronavirus does not discriminate, but seniors, especially older women, are particularly vulnerable.
Many of us in Singapore have been religiously following the news on Covid-19 and eagerly looking out for updates, wondering how else the pandemic will change our daily lives.
From cancelling travel plans to avoiding malls, limiting gatherings to 10 people, keeping a 1m safe distance from others and now, to stay at home and to restrict interactions only to those in the household, these are not ordinary times.
In a matter of weeks, Covid-19 has drastically changed the way we live. The coronavirus does not discriminate, but seniors, especially older women, are particularly vulnerable.
Seniors have a weaker immunity system and are more likely to have other health conditions, weakening their body’s ability to fight infectious diseases. In Singapore alone, the six fatalities here from Covid-19 complications so far are aged 64 to 88.
The vulnerability of seniors extends to their mental health.
More than half of Singapore residents aged 65 and above live alone or with their spouses only.
They are highly dependent on their caregivers for emotional and financial support. Reduced visits by their loved ones and the suspension of senior-centric activities, while totally justified for public health reasons during this period, can lead to increased loneliness.
There is a further risk of something untoward happening to them without anyone knowing.
Worse, the Covid-19 situation has caused a dip in the number of volunteers and donations in non-profit organisations and social service organisations.
This will affect thousands of seniors who heavily rely on such organisations to provide food and groceries, as well as social support through befrienders’ programmes.
As for seniors holding jobs such as cleaners, cashiers and security guards, they continue to face risk of coming into contact with the virus that causes Covid-19.
Additionally, with the constant news updates and large amount of information available online, it might be difficult for seniors to discern what is accurate, making them susceptible to fake news and rumours and causing unnecessary fear and panic.
Among the seniors, older women are even more vulnerable than their male counterparts.
For one thing, women have a longer life expectancy and a higher chance of remaining single or being widowed. They are therefore more likely to live alone as compared to men, as shown in a 2018 report by the Centre of Ageing Research and Education and Duke-NUS Medical School.
Furthermore, because of the inequality in men and women’s caregiving responsibilities, women are more likely to drop out of the labour force or work part-time during their productive years.
These women are more likely to retire with less savings, which makes them more vulnerable to financial stress in their old age, especially with the likely prolonged economic uncertainties now.
Even women whose husbands work in the hospitality, food and beverage, taxi and ride-hailing industries are now requesting from charities such as Methodist Welfare Services for financial aid.
How can we help our seniors?
In times like this where resources are limited, it would be challenging to reach out to all the vulnerable seniors who need help.
But this does not mean nothing can be done.
Recently, the International Women’s Forum, a member of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) that is committed to advancing women’s leadership and equality, successfully appealed to NTUC FairPrice to set aside a shopping period dedicated for senior citizens and other vulnerable groups. Since then, other supermarket chains have rolled out similar arrangements.
To do more, partnership between the public, private and people sector is crucial.
The ministries and relevant agencies, civic society groups and voluntary welfare organisations should tap into each other's resources.
In times like this, collaboration is important to optimise efforts and ensure that resources are allocated to those who need it most as we should continue to look for ways to engage seniors and connect them to their families and social welfare organisations.
Even before the latest circuit breaking measures were announced, many programmes and activities for seniors have gone online. For instance, a new internet video series by the Government and Singapore Press Holdings aims to bring various fitness and cooking activities to the seniors at home.
The National Silver Academy (NSA) has also rolled out a new series of live talks, NSA e-Nuggets Series, to engage seniors in e-learning.
However, not all seniors have the necessary knowledge and technology to jump on this online bandwagon. It is thus important for us to look into increasing the connectivity of seniors as well as raise awareness on disinformation.
The new initiatives announced by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) this week to ensure that everyone, even our seniors, can go online for their daily tasks and social activities are timely.
It is great that IMDA will work with various content providers to make available more news, educational and entertainment content.
Enhancing content and providing more choices on television is a way to engage seniors currently, however, in the long run, it is unhealthy for seniors to have little or no interaction.
While I understand the need for seniors to stay at home to stay safe, I hope that the relevant authorities will, in a few weeks’ time when it deems fit, reactivate volunteers and allow the Senior Activity Centres to have physical contact with the seniors with the proper precautionary measures in place.
Individuals should do their part by making sure their parents and grandparents have accurate information on the outbreak so that they would not worry themselves unnecessarily.
More can also be done to check in on vulnerable elderly living by themselves. While voluntary welfare and social service organisations do make regular phone calls to seniors under their charge, families of elderly living alone should constantly call them, a couple of times a week.
At the same time, seniors with mobility issues and dementia would face difficulties getting basic necessities and sustaining themselves during the circuit-breaking period. They will need the support of their family and the community and some flexibility should be accorded to them.
The public can also step up and extend their help by volunteering or donating to a worthy cause through giving.sg. It is heartening to know that some of us are willing to donate our subsidies from the Resilience budget to the needy and disadvantaged.
I also call on the private sector to partner up with civic society groups and voluntary welfare organisations to support programmes aimed at helping the vulnerable in our society who are affected.
This outbreak has affected everyone in one way or another and while we keep our guard to protect ourselves and our families, we should not forget the vulnerable in our society who are in need of our help and support most. It can be as simple as just keeping a look out for them.
Nobody should be left behind during this crisis so let us work together to keep our community and seniors safe.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Junie Foo is the chair of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation Ageing Taskforce.