More being done to help elderly patients

At SingHealth's age sensitisation workshops, participants - wearing gloves, goggles and earmuffs to simulate the limited abilities of the elderly - had to pick up coins and perform other daily tasks under restricted conditions.
PHOTO: More being done to help elderly patients

Growing old is never easy, as Ms Siti Farah Abdul Latiff, 28, now knows very well.

The patient relations officer practised picking up coins and getting dressed - tricky when she cannot see and hear easily.

"We put on earphones so we couldn't really hear what was going on, and spectacles which were quite dark, so I couldn't actually see," said Ms Siti.

Her legs and hands were also bandaged to make it hard for her to walk - all part of a workshop to help health-care staff put themselves in the shoes of the elderly.

These workshops are one of a slew of measures rolled out by the SingHealth group to make its institutions more elderly-friendly.

In April, the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) started a shuttle bus service that picks up wheelchair users from Outram Park MRT station.

Previously, these patients had to make their way to the hospital via an uphill slog of about 600m.

It also made room for wheelchair parking spots in some waiting areas, and colour-coded clinics to distinguish them from one another.

"Sometimes, we get a lot of people on wheelchairs," said Ms Tina Phua, who manages the hospital's specialist outpatient clinics. "They would park anywhere, obstructing staff and patients."

The SingHealth group - including SGH and about half of Singapore's polyclinics - sees nearly one million elderly patients every year.

Last year, the group also unveiled a plan which breaks down a patient's health-care journey into 10 checkpoints.

These include drop-off areas, waiting rooms and common areas like toilets.

"This chapter-by-chapter plan allows us to go into detail, right down to the ideal size and height of a chair seat and the best font size for signage," said Mrs Tan-Huang Shuo Mei, group director of communications and service quality at SingHealth and SGH.

Added Ms Phua: "For example, if there is only one space for a toilet, we will set up a handicap toilet."

And the latest addition to SingHealth's workshops are skits in which trainers mimic tough situations that health-care staff might find themselves in.

Their audience then brainstorms how the situation could have been handled better.

For Ms Siti, however, the most memorable episode is dressing up as someone more than twice her age.

She found the tasks such a chore that she was the last in her class to complete them.

"My job is in the front line, and I think this has helped me be more patient with the elderly because I understand (them) better," she said.

"You really have to feel for them and put yourself in their shoes."

This article was first published on June 6, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.