Is there anyone for lonely seniors?

Mr Mohd Ani Mohd, 82, was alone in his Bedok North flat when he put his arm into a drainpipe.

When he couldn't get it out, he cried out for help. Nobody heard him for 12 hours.

Last week, I trawled numerous rental blocks in Toa Payoh and Kampong Glam, in search of seniors who live alone, to understand their fears and concerns.

Some of them were living alone by choice, others were forced by circumstances.

They knew they might end up in a dire situation, just like Mr Mohd Ani.

But they shrugged their shoulders at the thought.

Yes, yes, they said, they could call for help and they did have telephone numbers of friends and social workers.

In many of the flats, there is an emergency cord that can be pulled to summon help.

But what if help doesn't come, I asked. Then it means it's time to go, they told me matter-of-factly.

Seniors living alone often receive support from senior-friendly organisations such as Lions Befrienders, which regularly visit them. But all volunteer groups will tell you their resources are stretched.

Needy seniors who are under the public assistance scheme also get free medical care and supplementary assistance provided by community-based agencies. They include festive hampers, cash gifts and food rations.

But what they might really need is company.

Member of Parliament Lily Neo, who has many elderly residents in her Tanjong Pagar ward, doesn't think seniors should live alone.

She cited the HDB rental flat policy which requires two people to register for a flat.

Yes, the system has its pros and cons, she said.

"Sometimes they don't get along, but the advantage is that they can look out for one another," she added.

But it's not just about being physically alone.

Mrs Lucy Tan, centre manager of Peace Connect, which operates from the ground floor of a rental block in North Bridge Road, said there's another vulnerable group - seniors who are neglected by family members.

Emotionally, these seniors are alone.

Mrs Tan said sometimes it's not just about financial support. It's also about the kindness of the community.

Many of the seniors I spoke to said they were happy living alone. But they added that they were also happy to have someone to talk to.

A 79-year-old woman invited me to her flat (after she was sure I was not a crook) and we discussed fashion as she showed me her wardrobe, packed with clothes she wore in her youth.

A 69-year-old man apologised profusely for not offering a drink, and dismissed my apology for taking up so much of his time by telling me he had plenty of time, anyway.

Mr Mohd Ani was lucky he has a son who visits him. That son found and rescued him.

Who is going to be there for the other seniors living alone?

This article was first published on June 17, 2014.
Get The New Paper for more stories.