Joy in their twilight years
Growing old doesn’t have to be a solitary existence. At O’ Joy Care Services, a sense of community and companionship allows seniors to interact and develop meaningful social ties.
I’ve recently realised, through observation, how my grandparents are growing older. It’s not just about seeing how there are more candles to be blown out on the birthday cake every year, but rather, hospital visits have become even more crucial and frequent. So are the mentions of health issues such as “ga sao” (coughing in Hokkien) or “ka tia” (aching legs in Hokkien).
I’ve also noticed that after every dialysis session, as we get out of the car upon returning home, my grandmother would drape her cardigan over her right arm where the dialysis tube had been inserted. I wondered why, until my parents pointed out that she did not want the neighbours to know that she was sick. It made me wonder: While the dialysis sessions were technically making her better, did she actually feel better after the sessions?
This brings me to my key thoughts: What does it mean to age healthily?
Is the purpose of healthcare for an ageing person with an illness to cure them or to make them feel better?
Does cure necessarily mean an improved well-being?
I went down to Geylang West Community Centre on a Thursday morning to speak with Jin Kiat, executive director of O’Joy Care Services, about this. Thursday is Angklung Day for the seniors taking part in the Health-Oriented Ageing (HOA) programme, as part of the activities at the centre after the morning exercise.
“Some of the elderly who have cancer, for example, go for chemotherapy. Afterwards, they start to shun their friends because of various reasons stemming from their health condition. Doesn’t this actually result in a poorer well-being, as they cut off from many of their important social ties?” Jin Kiat said, flipping open a folder containing health models, strategies, charts, tables, and years and years of personal research in this area.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined health to be “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Medicine, traditionally, focuses on the cure, by removing the “disease or infirmity”. But if health is more than simply the absence of disease, then our approach to healthcare must include more than just medicine.
“Singapore is definitely growing in its ageing population. Some day, our current healthcare services, hospitals and clinics, will not be able to accommodate so many people. I think it’s time that we focus on prevention as well,” Jin Kiat explained.
In a speech this year, Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health, said it is estimated that 9,000 additional staff will be needed in the next three years for new facilities and services in the public and community healthcare settings.
This leaves two possible avenues: If you have more elderly members of the community in need of medical care, you could increase the resources at hospitals and clinics, or you could lower the demand for medical care by promoting healthy ageing.
So how can we promote healthy ageing?
It’s not enough to simply inform, but we need to also engage. With community-based approaches to healthy living, such as the HOA programme at O’ Joy, lifestyle changes are slowly integrated into the seniors’ daily life. The programme brings together the elderly of the Upper Boon Keng community, and caters to their daily physical and psychosocial wellness. Seniors are also encouraged to interact with one another, and they often do.
Jin Kiat told me that the seniors are welcome to join all of the activities, such as art and movement, after their daily exercise session, but can also choose activities they are interested in, which are held on specific days. For example, an auntie who loves singing will join in on Mondays when there is a singing session.
“To clarify, every weekday they have art/movement activities after the daily exercise session (as part of the Health-Oriented Aging programme). Usually the seniors choose which of these activities they prefer to take part in (they can come for all, or just the sessions they’re interested in). On Mondays, the art/movement activity is singing — so if a senior is only interested in the singing session, then he/she will usually only join in on Mondays.”
But after observing these seniors at these sessions, one thing struck me: It seemed as though the activity didn’t matter as much as the fact that in this community, the seniors had companions to share experiences with. Whether it was angklung, wushu or painting, it was the connection and the feeling of being valued that the elderly enjoyed at these HOA sessions.
And the people are what makes the HOA programme stand out – Jin Kiat speaking with passion about helping seniors age well, senior volunteers cheerily handing out food at lunch time, and the seniors themselves sharing a relaxed conversation over a healthy bowl of porridge. All these are the irreplaceable bits and pieces that makes the HOA programme so effective.
Looking at the larger picture, more resources are being channeled into medicine, clinics and hospitals, considering that programmes such as these fall under social services. The good work of organisations like O’Joy depends on donations so that programmes can be sustained and continually developed.
Apart from the HOA programme, the centre also provides a range of integrated services. With enough resources, these organisations will be able to reach out to even more elderly members of the community, to not just spread the word about healthy ageing, but to also engage them and forge a relationship with them.