'Legwork crucial' for active ageing scheme to succeed

Building facilities for seniors is not good enough; efforts must be made to involve those who are socially isolated, say social service professionals.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Building facilities for senior citizens is not enough. They must also have a reason to get out of their homes and participate in activities, social service professionals told The Straits Times yesterday.

They urged the Government to keep this in mind after it announced the Action Plan for Successful Ageing on Wednesday, saying that programmes must appeal to a wide range of interests and efforts must be made to involve those who are socially isolated.

"You can't have a fixed programme and expect every senior to love it," said Charity Council chairman Gerard Ee, who has spent more than 30 years working in social services.

"What you can do is have a place... for seniors to come find out what is available, become friends, and form cliques and interest groups."

Spearheaded by the Ministerial Committee on Ageing, the $3 billion five-year plan will give Singaporeans the opportunity to learn, volunteer and live independently long after retirement.

Infrastructure improvements such as active ageing hubs and eldercare centres in at least 10 new Housing Board projects are on the cards. More details will be revealed next year.

Ms Janice Chia, founder of social enterprise Ageing Asia, suggested offering incentives such as membership fee rebates to keep seniors coming back for schemes to encourage healthy living.

"It's not about giving someone a membership and just building the facilities," she said. "You need to drive them to want to do it."

She added that fitness centres should be staffed with trainers who motivate seniors "like they would their own parents".

Mr Ee said a lot of legwork has to be done to involve socially isolated people who may have little education or access to the Internet.

"If there is a flier, they don't know what it is about," he explained.

"So the only way to reach out to them is legwork, volunteers go down and befriend them... there is no substitute for that."

Some senior citizens told The Straits Times that they are interested in finding out more about the action plan.

"I've just stopped working, so it's been very boring," said former receptionist Alice Choo, 57.

"I would be interested to learn maybe computer skills or cooking, but there's nothing solid out yet."

Ms Serena Seah, who runs a business supplying paper rolls, said that she wants to keep active even as she grows older.

"Otherwise, you're just waiting for your queue number to be called and it's time for you to go," said the 58-year-old, who has picked up line dancing and occasionally volunteers in her free time.

"That's what I don't want, and it spurs me on to be active, look after my diet, and that kind of thing."



This article was first published on August 29, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.