Ageing in place: Bringing home ideas from abroad

Ageing in place: Bringing home ideas from abroad

In early February 2012, The Straits Times ran a two-page feature I wrote on "naturally occurring retirement communities" (Norcs) in New York as part of a larger special report on retirement living options overseas which could be emulated in fast-ageing Singapore.

I had spent two weeks visiting 13 communities in the United States and Europe that offered older folk varied choices on how they want to live.

Norcs are high-rise housing blocks or clusters of landed homes not specifically designed for older folk, but which evolve organically as their residents age.

They typically have "supportive services" to enable older people to age in the same communities they have called home for decades. These programmes - ranging from art and exercise classes to home nursing - are usually run by charities. Services of social workers and home-help aides are also available.

Some of the largest Norcs in North America are located in urban high-rise housing complexes, not unlike Singapore's Housing Board estates.

The Straits Times report on Norcs struck a special chord with readers and many wrote in wishing that such services would become available here. Weeks earlier, the Government had announced that three estates - Whampoa, Bedok and Taman Jurong - would join Marine Parade in getting age-friendly features and facilities.

That same year, 2012, the Health Ministry, which oversees ageing issues here, invited the Tsao Foundation to start working in Whampoa. The area already had many robust and popular active ageing programmes - such as weekly exercise sessions - championed by the grassroots groups.

"We were impressed with the numerous initiatives that Tsao had pioneered in the area of aged care," a ministry spokesman said.

"By bringing active ageing and aged-care programmes together, we hope to develop Whampoa into a Norc, where initiatives are planned and implemented based on a thorough survey of residents' needs."

The ministry also hopes to develop more Norcs in places like Bedok and Marine Parade, which are already home to a large number of older folk.

Efforts are also being made in areas such as Kreta Ayer, Ang Mo Kio, Choa Chu Kang and the West Coast to provide more services that can help seniors to "age in place".

As of last June, there were more than 430,000 people in Singapore aged 65 and above, up by nearly 100,000 from just four years earlier. The numbers are likely to rise to nearly one million by 2030.

While roaming the senior-friendly corridors and compounds of two of New York's largest Norcs and sharing in the laughter and bonhomie among octogenarians in gardening, exercise and even drama classes, I could not help but wish for the same in Singapore.

I had been writing about older folk here for the greater part of a decade by then, but most of my stories - about the impending "silver tsunami" - seemed so gloomy in comparison.

Today, things are changing for sure. There are still many seniors who face health, money, emotional and caregiving concerns.

But wandering through Whampoa, watching older folk giggle and gossip through exercise, makan and music sessions, I could not help but bask in that same joy of living I experienced on crisp, cold Manhattan mornings just three short years ago.

This article was first published on Apr 5, 2015.
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