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"Befriender" buddies for elderly living alone

Thirteen elderly and frail residents, living alone in rental flats at Chin Swee Road, now have “befrienders” to help them, thanks to an initiative started by grassroots leaders in the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng division and the area's MP.

SINGAPORE: Thirteen elderly and frail residents, living alone in rental flats at Chin Swee Road, now have “befrienders” to help them -- an initiative started by grassroots leaders in the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng division and the area's MP Dr Lily Neo

These “befrienders” are usually neighbours who look out for their daily needs or respond to their call for help, when needed.

Former jade seller Lee Thiam Seng, who has multiple health conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure, is one of the 13 residents to have a befriender.

The 82-year-old had a bad fall recently which has affected his mobility.

About three months ago, grassroots leaders asked his housemate, 84-year-old Madam Ho Ah Ching, to take on a “befriender” role.

Mdm Ho said: "I've been living here for about two years. After I was here for a few months, he fell down and had to be hospitalised. 

“Even after he was discharged, he was weaker than before and cannot walk properly. So I try to ensure he gets his meals.

"At that time, I used to cook for him every morning. This was before we had meals at the welfare centre. It's been a year since.

“I'm staying with him and see him every day, so if I see him hungry, I can't possibly leave him alone. If he needs to get anything, walk anywhere or go to the toilet, I just help him out.

"After he's back from the doctor, I bring him his medicine, give him his eye drops."

Mdm Ho is a befriender under the "Ageing Gracefully @ Home" project, which helps frail senior citizens living alone in rental flats.

Grassroots leaders have identified 13 such elderly residents living in Blocks 51 and 52 of Chin Swee Road and they have found nine befrienders, who are usually healthy neighbours, to look out for them.

Befrienders are paid a token amount of S$5 a day which, grassroots leaders say, helps to ensure they take their responsibilities seriously.

The area's MP hopes this buddy system can help prevent simple illnesses from escalating.

"If they're sick and they don't want to eat food for the next few days because they just can't get up to get their food, then the fact that they don't eat for a few days would make them very weak,” said Dr Lily Neo, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC.

“So instead of just getting flu, they may end up too weak, or they may fall, fracture themselves, or they may hit themselves on the head, and that could end up with a stroke." 

"We want to detect early signs of severe illnesses so that we can refer them" and they can recover faster, she added.

Besides providing emotional support, grassroots leaders hope befrienders can help to find out the daily needs of the beneficiaries, and contact staff stationed at the Kreta Ayer Senior Activity Centre for help.

The initiative will be officially launched on July 6 when Education Minister Heng Swee Keat visits the area.

Apart from programmes for the elderly, Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng also has one for underprivileged children and youth, which includes a range of activities such as guitar classes and table tennis lessons and excursions to the zoo.

The programme is run by volunteers, social workers and professional instructors, and it has reached out to 160 children and youth living in Jalan Kukoh. 

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