Archive | December 2011

Promoting active ageing

As I enter the gym the gym on a regular day, a familiar male voice greeted me by the entrance.

“Eh young man, why you come? Go back, go back!”

It was Mr Danker. I stopped dead in my tracks, seemingly offended by what I have just heard. Visibly livid, I turned around and glare at him like I was about to explode. An uncomfortable tension begins to build as I await for the right opportunity to strike. Noting the blank expression he wears on his face, this represents the ideal moment. I erupt into uncontrollable laughter before he realizes that this was another silly joke of mine.

“Grow up lah, young man!” he wailed.

Mr Danker is the administrator for the gym. Already past his retirement age of 65, he continues to lead an active lifestyle like many elderly patrons who visits in the morning. He belongs to the group of ageing baby boomers today who are better educated, richer and healthier. On the one hand, they will have plenty of experience and energy for us to harness as opportunities, and on the other hand, their varying lifestyle choices will entail challenges for policy-makers.

All in all, there are 4 key thrusts towards an active lifestyle and well-being for the elderly. In order to encourage healthy lifestyles, the government has established elderly-friendly sports infrastructures and facilities to spur participation from the seniors. Community centres gyms (similar to the one  mentioned above) also offer discounts to elderly patrons. To promote social interaction, more public spaces have been constructed within housing estates and neighbourhood parks for the elderly to socialize. The National Wellness Programme launched in 2010 helps seniors to not only combat loneliness, but also to lead an active lifestyle. Learning and contributing opportunities-wise, community colleges are offering courses in language, literature, culture, life skills development etc to the elderly for personal interests and employability. Active senior volunteerism provides the elderly with a chance to contribute meaningfully to the society. The reading programme by the National Library for instance, provides seniors with such opportunity to conduct storytelling sessions to the children. Finally, in order to build stronger family ties, intergenerational bonding programmes initiated by communities bring seniors closer to their loved ones.

On top of these thrusts, voluntary organizations seek to promote positive attitudes towards ageing while the annual Senior Citizens Award serves to honour active senior citizens and model grandparents in the community.

To sum it up, the Committee on Ageing Issues (CAI) has produced a comprehensive yet realistic framework towards their objective of achieving “Successful Ageing for Singapore.” The past 5 posts have offered plenty of insights with regards to the committee’s approach to building an accessible elderly-friendly environment, a holistic and affordable eldercare system, as well as a blueprint for active ageing. Over the recent years, there has also been a slew of new developments in terms of infrastructures, facilities, policies and programmes which bring us closer to the target. Yet, more remains to be done while the ‘silvering’ of our population continues at a rapid pace. The “Many Helping Hands” approach is the way forward for Singapore, as only with a collective effort involving all stakeholders (government, people and private sectors, voluntary welfare organizations, media and academic members) can we stand a better chance of tackling such a sophisticated, diverse and cross-sectoral issue.

(Source: Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports: Committee on Ageing Issues)

(Image source: Teck Ghee Grassroots)


Making eldercare holistic yet affordable

With a growing ‘silver’ population in Singapore, it is substantially necessary for the country to develop its healthcare and eldercare system to meet the demands. In addition, there is a need to not only construct a dense network of community-based services, but also to ensure long-term sustainability in the provision of these services. The blueprint for a holistic and affordable eldercare must also incorporate the concept of ageing-in-place, where seniors can continue residing in the community which they are familiar with. Altogether, the Committee on Ageing Issues (CAI) has proposed 4 key approaches towards achieving this;

Develop support services within the community

In terms of the management of elderly healthcare needs, a holistic Family Physicians (FPs)-centered approach should be adopted. This is because of the close proximity the FPs are to provide primary prevention, maintenance of health and screening of diseases to the elderly in the community. The increasing presence of Community Health Centres (CHCs) also help to supplement the FPs with support services. In addition, there is a need to establish a variety of community-based nursing services for the elderly who would prefer to continue living in the community. Caregiver Centres on the other hand will offer an alternate support to families by providing care for the elderly.

Facilitate integrated service planning and delivery

There are plenty of rooms for improvement in this aspect. Follow-up care for discharged elderly patients can be enhanced via the closer integration between hospital systems and the community. The CAI also believe that the integrated service models of day care and day rehabilitation centres for the elderly must be flexible against market changes in order to be cost-efficient. More importantly, data requirements across all agencies must be streamlined to ensure that medical information is exchangeable between step-down healthcare facilities and community-based elder-care facilities.

Expand diversity and capability development within the health and eldercare sector

With the growing complexity of needs and expectations of the elderly, it is increasingly important to enhance healthcare capabilities and tailor social and personal care services to suit their range of requirements. The CAI is of the belief that in order to spur private sector participation and innovation in health and eldercare, the government should revise its policies and undertake a facilitating role in the industry. Essentially, certain aspects such as manpower and service standards must also be improvised to meet the rising demands of an ageing population.

Ensure affordability of health and eldercare services

This is achieved through a flexible multi-tiered safety net consisting of government subsidy for Class B2 / C wards, Medisave, MediShield, Medifund and ElderShield. As much as 80% of actual medical expenditures at Class B2 and C wards of public hospitals are being subsidized by the government while the remaining schemes provide greater financial protection for the elderly against huge medical bills.

As we can see, the Government’s role goes beyond financing the use of services. It also has an essential role to play with regards to manpower development, regulations and the establishment of standards for the sector. More importantly, it must facilitate the planning and development of the sector in order to achieve a holistic and affordable eldercare for our future seniors.

(Source: Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports: Committee on Ageing Issues, Straits Time)

(Image source: Khoo Chai Ling)

A couple of hours and a wealth of wisdom

A while back I heard about a compelling initiative by an organisation named Äldrekontakt (older contact, or contact with elders) that sets up social coffee gatherings in peoples homes. A group of 6-8 elderly people living alone are picked up by volunteer drivers and taken to a volunteer’s home, with most volunteers being between 25 and 40, where they are treated to coffee, baked goods and, above all, great conversation. The same group of elderly people meet each month but the volunteers vary, giving consistency to the participants but also limiting the necessary commitment of volunteers.

 What I particularly love about this initiative is how clearly it benefits all parties. Hearing peoples’ life stories and wisdoms presents incredible learning lessons for younger people and the chance to socially interact in someones home is particularly appreciated by the elderly participants, in addition to hearing the perspectives of the younger hosts. The organisation works with local municipalities to identify elderly people living alone who do not have very many visits from or much contact with other people, ensuring that the program reaches those who may benefit the most. This particular initiative is very well organized but it also presents an idea that can be easily implemented almost anywhere! I’ve now signed up to become a host (I promise to post about my own experience if I’m contacted) but I also considered that in my building alone there are 4 women over the age of 85 living alone – perhaps it is their wisdom I should reach out for first!
Photos courtesy of Johanna Frenkel (

Christmas oldies – For today’s seniors not much has changed on the carols’ music scene

When looking for inspiration on what to write my Boxing Day blog post about, I felt something related to the season would be adequate, thus a google search on ‘oldies + Christmas’ was a given.

I don’t know what I had expected to find, but the obvious ten top hits were all related to favourite Christmas oldies, as in ‘old Christmas songs’. And then it struck me. Have you ever thought about that so many of the Christmas songs and carols that we still consider our favourites were all recorded in the the 40s, 50s and 60s? Around the time when the people that are getting ready for retirement nowadays were born and young? I hadn’t. So I dug a little deeper and guess what I found?

Out of the 25 most popular Holiday songs in the US in the past decade (as in most played both on radio and i-Pods) all but two were songs initially recorded during the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. If you look at the top 10 songs for this holiday season all of them are from the same decades.

The single with most sold copies worldwide all time (regardless of genre) is White Christmas by Irving Berlin with Bing Crosby from 1942 and according to a Wikipedia compilation of the top ten songs with most copies sold worldwide three of them are Christmas carols, recorded during the 30s and 40s (#3 Bing Crosby – Silent Night, 1935 (even if this particular song is based on an Austrian song from 1818), #1 Bing Crosby – White Christmas from 1942 and #8 Gene Autry – Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer from 1949).

When cross-checking and putting together the numbers I was quite fascinated, even if the metrics of ‘copies sold’ in particular might not be the most fair to songs released in our later digitalized music era.

I also found an intent of giving an explanation as to why it’s so hard to come up with another ‘Rudolph’ Christmas hit and that was given by a Canadian newspaper in 1979. The article explained that back in the day when Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer was released, such a hit would be released already in September and therefore have a longer period of time to reach popularity, whereas in 1979 (and still today) most malls and radio stations won’t start playing Christmas songs until late November (after Thanksgiving), making Christmas hits a less lucrative business having only a couple of weeks to create the same billboard sensations.

Whichever the reason, one thing is certain: for the seniors joining the 65+ silverevolution in the coming years, much will have changed since they were young, but when it comes to the favourite songs played each year around Christmas, the are likely to keep reminding them of their childhood for many years to come.

With that said I’d like to take the opportunity to wish all of you a belated Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays with one of my own favourite Christmas songs (that got to #3 on the music charts back in its day in 1946):

Massage and Acupuncture: Application of the Science of Touch


Hands can make tools, and hands can be tools themselves.

When one really takes time to think about it, hands are incredible. The science of touch is a rarely discussed topic, primarily due to the sensitivity the topic entails when taking some cultural and social norms into consideration. But the fact is, without touch, we would not be here. It is proven that babies do not develop properly if they do not have skin contact. Apparently, touch is required as a triggering mechanism for promulgation of brain activity, emotional response, as well as the immune system.The touch of a newborn baby’s hand forms tears in the eyes, and the touch of an elder’s hand cannot help but make one think of the wisdom one can learn of the world. The touch of hands have incredible potential. Just as they have let us discover fire, craft tools, and even use smartphones, they have been used in treatment for as long as history can recall.

Two such forms of the application of hands for treatment include massage and acupuncture. While massage involves direct skin contact through the hands, guided by fluid movements, acupuncture involves the intuition of the hands to gently guide needle tools serving as extensions of the hands — affecting meridians of the body that are stimulated through touch. Without the needle tools, this is known as acupressure.

According to the American News Report, studies have shown that, for massage, treatment is effective for treating pain regarding inflammation after exercise (reducing inflammation of acutely damaged skeletal muscle), osteoarthritis knee pain (pain reduction), chronic low back pain (significant pain reduction), and fibromyalgia (pain reduction and improved quality of life). Exhaustive amounts of studies exist for acupuncture, and publications from the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences revealed, for example, the potential of acupuncture treatment for depression as well as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Regarding CFS, acupuncture has shown to significantly improve quality of life.

These are just two methods of the science of touch, but this is an almost endless avenue to explore. Ready for an adventure? The skies are the limits… but not for the hands. Hands built space programs.

Hands are incredible.



Greenville Hospital System. The Magic Hour. Retrieved May 24th, 2012 from:

American News Report. Studies Show Massage Relieves Chronic Pain. Retrieved May 24th, 2012 from:

PubMed. Development of studies on on neurochemical mechanism of acupuncture underlying improvement of depression. Retrieved May 24th, 2012 from:

PubMed. A meta analysis on randomized controlled trials of acupuncture treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome. Retrieved May 24th, 2012 from:

PubMed. Randomized controlled study on influence of acupuncture for life quality of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Retrieved May 24th, 2012 from:

A barrier-free society

An elderly woman boards the bus with relative ease. A good-natured banter then ensued between the bus captain and the elderly woman herself as the journey continues. Visibly delighted, she spoke of her hearty lunch at a food centre nearby. Strangely enough, she was also offering words of encouragement to the captain who is beginning to look a little familiar. Some serious mulling later and it hit me; the driver who appeared on the news for the wrong reason a week ago is now behind the wheel of our bus. Towards the end of the journey, I had the privilege to witness a particularly heartening moment as the elderly lady presented the gratified driver with a token of encouragement.

Emotions aside, I have also come to realize that our accessible environment has given the elderly woman the independence to integrate with the wider community and lead an active live. On the bus, low floor, step-free and access ramp features provide accessibility to the elderly and handicapped persons. Over the past few years, public transport operators such as Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) and Singapore Bus Service (SBS) have been introducing these senior-friendly buses into the roads while Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations have undergone retrofitting regimes to improve accessibility to the elderly.

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Towards an elderly-friendly community

Set foot on the older estates like Ang Mo Kio and East Coast in Singapore these days and chances are you will be greeted by the sight of renovation works. Anti-slip floor tiles, alert alarm systems and lifts that stop on all levels; these additions are part of the Housing Development Board (HDB) efforts to create an elderly-friendly environment through upgrading schemes such as Home Improvement Programme (HIP), Interim Upgrading Programme (IUP) and Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP). Elsewhere in the Marine Parade estate, a 5-year pilot currently in its 2nd phase seeks to address the problem of accommodating an increasing elderly population.

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