Is that a mall or obstacle course for the elderly?

Is that a mall or obstacle course for the elderly?

When my 80-year-old mother recently broke her arm after a fall, she could not move freely and was paranoid about falling again - even at home.

But two weeks after the incident and bored with being cooped up at home, she felt ready to resume her normal activities, including visiting shopping malls.

Although the cast was off, she still could not do much with her left arm and her walking speed was half what it used to be because she had also hurt her hips in the fall.

And that's when we realised how some malls can be so user-unfriendly for senior citizens.

So it is heartening that the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has stipulated that new buildings frequented by families - such as malls, sports complexes and community clubs - must be more user-friendly from next April.

The move is timely given the ageing population. From 2000 to 2010, the number of residents aged 65 and above expanded by 49 per cent. This group is projected to climb a staggering 74 per cent between 2010 and 2020.

So it makes good sense - both social and business - to cater to what these folks need.

As People's Association Active Ageing Council chairman Tan Yong Seng noted, many seniors fear stepping out of their homes because of the fear of falling.

Based on my experiences visiting malls with my mother recently, some design features are unsuited to older folk - even those in reasonably good health.

For example, toilets and lifts are often tucked away in remote corners or at the end of corridors. While the young may not break a sweat in tracking down these facilities, the task can be arduous for the elderly.

Not everyone can use steep staircases or fast-moving escalators with ease and confidence either.

My mum, like many other elderly people, did not dare to use the escalators, which meant we had to take the lift. But the few lifts were often sited in obscure corners, requiring long walks and asking people how to get to them.

Also, should there be a law curtailing the use of open spaces to pack in yet more tenants or hold events, because that makes it tough for people in wheelchairs or using walking aids to move about freely amid the able-bodied crush?

And if you're visiting with a slow-moving elderly person, you have to wonder why mall owners cannot provide seats in corridors or open spaces to let people take five.

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