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‘Now the days seem longer’: With social activities halted, isolated seniors struggle to pass time

SINGAPORE — Living alone in a two-room flat in Ghim Moh, Madam Seah Guat Ngoh used to look forward to meeting her friends at a nearby activity centre for seniors.

‘Now the days seem longer’: With social activities halted, isolated seniors struggle to pass time

Organisations serving the elderly told TODAY that they have suspended non-essential activities, though emergency help remains available for frail or homebound seniors.

SINGAPORE — Living alone in a two-room flat in Ghim Moh, Madam Seah Guat Ngoh used to look forward to meeting her friends at a nearby activity centre for seniors.

But Mdm Seah, 79, has felt increasingly isolated since the centre run by Lions Befrienders, a social service agency, stopped all activities last month in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

She spends most of her time watching television.

“When the centre was open, every day passed by well and was more fun, and I had friends to be with,” she told TODAY in Mandarin last week.

“Now, the days seem longer… I am very sad.”

Mdm Seah’s two sons visit her once a month. Her husband is in a nursing home. Now that she no longer frequents the centre, she is afraid that there is a high chance of something untoward happening to her without anyone knowing.

Mdm Seah is among many elderly people feeling the effects of the suspension of some activities for seniors islandwide, as social service agencies and the authorities try to curb the spread of Covid-19. Seniors are more vulnerable to the disease, which has infected 226 people in Singapore.

Notices seen at West Coast Community Centre on March 13, 2020 stating that senior-centric courses, organised activities and interest group activities has been suspended. Photo: Yong Jun Yuan/TODAY

Last week, the health authorities took these efforts up a notch by suspending all senior-centric activities run by government agencies for 14 days from Wednesday (March 11). This applies to activities held at community clubs, senior activity centres, active-ageing hubs and other places.

Organisations such as Lions Befrienders have been reducing or halting non-essential services for seniors.

Mdm Wee Chye Luan, 83, said the Lions Befrienders centre in Ang Mo Kio, which she visited daily, was “like a second home”.

The mother of six has not met her children much in the last two decades, save for her youngest daughter who visits and calls her every week.

She passes the time watching TV and dabbling in handicraft using red packets, and exercising in her one-room flat. “I wish this virus would go away,” Mdm Wee said in Mandarin, adding that she missed the employees and activities at the centre.

Mdm Ong Seok Cheng, 85, has volunteered at charity Fei Yue Community Services’ senior activity centre in Holland Close for a decade.

TV and mobile games now fill most of her day. “I cannot go out to do other things. Other events are also cancelled.”

SOME ACTIVITIES SUSPENDED, BUT EMERGENCY HELP AVAILABLE

Organisations serving the elderly told TODAY that they have suspended non-essential activities, though emergency help remains available for frail or homebound seniors.

Dr Goh Siew Hor, assistant director of clinical services at NTUC Health, said the health and community care arm of the labour movement has put all social activities on hold at its senior activity centres and active-ageing hubs.

Nevertheless, it continues to support seniors as well as those in need in emergency situations. Its senior care centre, day rehabilitation and nursing home services are still operating. “We will also continue to check in on vulnerable seniors regularly via phone calls,” Dr Goh said.

Charity Thye Hua Kwan’s Crest (Community Resource Engagement and Support Team) centre in Beo Crescent has suspended outreach and public education activities on mental health and wellness, but it continues to phone its clients and visit them in their homes if needed. House visits, though, have been reduced.

Crest is a community-based outreach programme for older persons at risk of or with mental illness, such as depression or dementia.

Lions Befrienders, meanwhile, shut all centre-based activities from Feb 10, three days after Singapore raised its risk assessment for the coronavirus from Yellow to Orange.

Even so, Lions Befrienders’ centres remain open to attend to seniors who need urgent help. The agency also does weekly phone or face-to-face checks on frail or homebound seniors who live alone or lack a competent caregiver.

Lions Befrienders said the seniors were generally coping well, though many have repeatedly asked when the activities would resume.

At Fei Yue, its befrienders call seniors to check on their well-being, though its befriending sessions have been suspended.

“While some seniors may feel lonelier since they cannot go down to the centres, we have encouraged them to perhaps catch up with their own family members or chat with their friends online during this period,” it said. “For those who are healthy and active, they can still go out for a walk and do simple exercises.”

The Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), which coordinates care services for the elderly, told TODAY that it has been working with its community care partners and the Ministry of Health to continue supporting clients and seniors in a safe environment.

Its Silver Generation Office, which engages seniors to help them stay healthy, active and connected, has launched a Covid-19 awareness outreach programme that aims to reach more than 27,000 vulnerable seniors who live alone or have little family support.

NURSING HOMES ON GUARD

Nursing homes have also ratcheted up infection-limiting measures, such as temperature checks, reductions in visitor numbers and keeping volunteers out.

The All Saints Home, which operates four centres offering residential, respite, day and home care, has temporarily halted the intake of clients requiring respite care — temporary institutional care that provides relief for their usual carers.

This is to reduce risks to existing residents and clients. All its other services are continuing with extra precautions.

At NTUC Health’s nursing homes, volunteering activities have stopped, and it encourages residents to take the lead in planning and running small-group activities that they enjoy.

Ling Kwang Home for Senior Citizens in Serangoon Garden Way has put a stop to all volunteer activities except those that are essential for the well-being of seniors in its care, such as haircuts and dental checks.

TRANSPORT SERVICES AND MEAL DELIVERIES UNAFFECTED

Providers of transport services and meal deliveries for the elderly and those in wheelchairs said it was business as usual, though they have beefed up infection-control measures.

SilverFleet, a wheelchair-friendly transport service, said it has recorded increased demand from individuals, as most carers are concerned about the elderly using public transport or private-hire cars to get to medical appointments and other activities.

But it has seen less demand from organisations such as elder day care centres and nursing homes, likely because they have postponed events to avoid large gatherings.

The Singapore Red Cross’ TransportAid service continues to take its nearly 500 clients to and from medical appointments, dialysis and treatments, with precautions in place. Drivers and medical chaperones are armed with masks and gloves. Vehicles, which are disinfected daily, are equipped with hand sanitiser and thermometers.

At the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Singapore, its meal delivery service Meals-on-Wheels continues for its beneficiaries, who include elderly people and those with disabilities.

The service, which began in 1997, delivers lunches to homes and partner agencies for distribution.

YWCA said that two of its 12 partner centres had decided to discontinue the meal service for the time being due to their management’s precautionary plans, but its operations remain unaffected.

“We have not restricted our delivery boundaries so far. In the event of an outbreak within our delivery vicinity, the delivery team will still have to deliver the meals, (or) else our beneficiaries may go hungry for the day,” it said.

Related topics

coronavirus MOH seniors Covid-19

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