Active ageing programme produces results

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s minister in charge of issues on ageing Mr Lim Boon Heng has said that the Wellness Programme at various constituencies around the island is producing results.

As a result, the Golden Opportunities (GO!) fund managed by the Council for Third Age will get another $20 million from April next year to boost these programmes.

The Council added that the next wave of seniors is expected to comprise better educated and more affluent individuals with sophisticated learning needs to further foster a lifelong learning landscape for the aged.

The pilot wellness programme started with 12 constituencies in 2008 and has now expanded to 42 wards.

And participation by senior citizens has exceeded targets, says the People’s Association.

The interim results of a recent study of some 4,400 members of the Wellness Programme found that participation rate in community activities increased from 11 per cent before joining the programme to 56 per cent one year later.

Mr Lim, who’s also deputy chairman of the People’s Association (PA), said: "Others have rediscovered themselves and found that there is a lot more to life than sitting at home and watching television. Previously some who had trouble spending time, now say they don’t have enough time for the many activities they are interested in. It’s been a change in outlook for many seniors.

"There are also those who are now more conscious about their health and what they can do to influence the outcome. We have a tendency to think that if we are struck by ill—health, it is fate. I think many people now realise that they can change their outcome if they exercise regularly, then they would lead a better life."

Mr Lim added that the PA has now set a target to reach out to to 50 per cent of all Singaporeans older than 50 years old to be part of the Wellness Programme.

This is so that its impact will be felt at the national level.

Furthermore, he noted, the programme has also resulted in more friendship among seniors.

Mr Lim said while the majority did not have friends among their neighbours at the start of the programme, more than 60 per cent made new friends and got to know their neighbours after joining.

Thirty—seven per cent of them made more than 10 new friends while 33 per cent got to know more than 10 neighbours.

Over the past few years, Singapore has been studying the retirement village concept but Mr Lim said studies have shown that retirement villages are probably suited for the higher end of Singapore society and most Singaporeans prefer to age at home.

Mr Lim said that after years of study on retirement villages around the world, he realised that the retirement villages that Singaporeans dream about can only be afforded by the top half per cent of any population in society.

Mr Lim said: "We therefore then need to look at what are the concerns of older people. Then we have to look at some of the concerns of older people, and their concerns are about security, who is going to take care of them if something happens to them.

"So we have this idea that if you live in a retirement village, if you need medical help, it is immediately available. If we look at Singapore, help is immediately available if we organise ourselves, we don’t have to go and especially build a retirement village for that to happen.

"So if you live alone or you live with your elderly spouse and if something should happen, then your quickest help is your neighbour, so be good neighbours, then mutual support is possible.

"So in Singapore, while there will be some demand for retirement villages, in time to come maybe because of a large number of singles but for the large majority of people, our focus must to help them age in place, meaning their homes where they have grown up in and to help them organise themselves in their own neighbourhoods."

Moving forward, Mr Lim said policy planners are studying overseas examples, one of which is the "naturally occurring retirement communities" from the United States.

He said the strength of such communities is the ability of seniors in the same neighbourhoods to self—organise, volunteer their time and skills, and get things done for one another.

Such seniors feel empowered and are in charge of their lives.

Mr Lim stressed that the question remains as to how such communities can blossom in Singapore and revitalise the "gotong—royong" (mutual cooperation) kampong spirit in the heartlands.