Baby boomers worried about growing old alone cheer the news

SINGAPORE - News of Singapore's first retirement village has brought fresh hope to a group of older folk who have been pleading the case for such communities here.

"We have been waiting for this for so long and our hopes were fading," said Dr Ambika Sarah Dharan, 64, a semi-retired doctor who has been lobbying for years. "This is the biggest piece of news I have heard this year."

Over the past five months, she has penned two open letters on behalf of a group of more than 150 "elderly, healthy, educated and enlightened folk" clamouring for more senior-living options.

"I was just too scared of staring at the four walls of my flat when I grow old and infirm," said the single woman who lives alone.

Her letters went to 30 ministers, politicians, active-ageing advocates and developers, seeking more "First World options for retirement living".

She questioned why, despite rapid ageing and a growing population of educated, affluent baby boomers, there was still no retirement village in Singapore.

Common in developed countries, these communities combine flats or houses with services such as medical clinics, nurses' stations, restaurants or cafeterias, gyms and activity rooms that seniors can use for line dancing, drama or music classes, reading rooms and other activities.

Dr Dharan has been gathering support from like-minded older folk like retired school principal Mabel Wee and a group of friends.

After visiting a retirement village in California, Ms Wee, 64, had begun meeting a group of retired friends every week to play the ukulele, share food and chat.

Last Friday, a dozen or so members of this group met at Ms Wee's Serangoon Gardens home to discuss the news of the first retirement village. "This is a long-awaited dream come true," said Ms Wee, who is single and lives alone.

"Retirement villages are especially useful for those like me who are ageing alone in landed homes we have lived in for nearly all our lives."

Not all of those who want retirement villages are single.

Some like Mr Sreetharan Viagasu, 74, and Ms Jacqueline Oehlers, 63, have children, but don't want to depend on them. Two of Mr Sreetharan's three children live overseas. He does not want to burden his only son in Singapore.

"We hope he will have children soon and it's stressful being a parent these days," said the retired army officer.

"My wife and I don't want to trouble him with our day-to-day needs," he added.

Ms Oehlers, who has a 34-year- old daughter, said what she finds most attractive about retirement villages is the fact that they offer services on-site.

"When you are on a wheelchair visiting a food centre or a clinic, even a 10-minute walk may be a problem," said the counsellor, who has visited a retirement community in Sydney.

A retirement village also allows older people to "age in place" and is not a depressing institution.

"It is your home. And it provides activities, care and companionship when you need it most," she said.

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