The population in Singapore began ageing a decade ago – coupled with a low birth rate, a rise in the elderly was seen. Residents of 65 years and above, increased from 8.5% in 2007 to 13% in 2017.

Besides that, from 2014 to 2015, Singapore witnessed an increase of 7% of new patients diagnosed with cancer. Professor William Hwang, the new head of the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) said, “cancer incidence is going to get a lot higher as cancer is a disease of older people.”

With these issues at hand, Singapore intends to improve healthcare for the public – especially towards the elderly. The improvement of health programmes, the involvement of more technologies and more prevention-focus methods will be used in providing the needed support for the public.

Expanding health programmes, keeping seniors well at home

Apart from community initiatives to aid the elderly, two health programmes will be expanded, allowing them the benefits of out-of-hospital care.

One of the schemes, called Communities of Care, provides the elderly with post-discharge care to reduce their rates of rehospitalisation. Since its launch last year, it has helped over 3,000 elderly residents to stay out of hospital. By the end of this year, it plans to expand its care to 5,000 residents.

More stay-home care and support from the community will be provided to elderly residents of other districts.
More stay-home care and support from the community will be provided to elderly residents of other districts.

Another similar initiative, known as Neighbours for Active Living, will expand to another 30 districts. Volunteers are trained to keep an eye on elderly residents living near them. According to Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor, this programme has helped reduce the number of hospital admissions and duration of stay among residents with various conditions in the programme.

“This move follows the integration of the SingHealth and Eastern Health Alliance healthcare clusters,” announced Dr Khor. The merging of both alliances is part of a larger regrouping of Singapore’s six regional health systems into three integrated clusters, which is expected to be completed early this year.

Safe at home with new technologies

Ageing is also associated with the lack of independence. However, Singapore is challenging that by integrating technology with elderly care – allowing them to continue living in the comfort of their home.

For seniors who live alone, such as Madam Sitee Marnoor, 76, motion sensors are attached near the main door, bedroom, bathroom and living room. Part of an ongoing project called SHINESeniors, the installed sensors help to monitor her movements and alert the call centre Care Line if her main door is not opened for more than 24 hours.

"We adopted a similar approach to the yellow-flag system in Japan, but use a door sensor instead," said Associate Professor Tan Hwee Pink, academic director of the SMU-TCS iCity Lab. "If the yellow flag is not present, it means that the elderly person has not opened the door for a while, and the community will then check on (them)."

For those who need support to move about, such as 87-year-old Leck Peow Joo, there is GlydeSafe. The walking frame that features retractable wheels and an auto-brake system has helped Ms Leck greatly – who suffers from arthritis and end-stage kidney failure.

It was then, her daughter, Ms Suzanne Ng chanced upon GlydeSafe, that “just glides” and can be used at home with minimal assistance.

Approximately 500 GlydeSafe frames have been sold currently, and a further 100 in Belgium. It is used by various organisations, such as St Andrew’s Community Hospital, social enterprise Pro Age, St Hilda’s Community Services and Metta Day Rehabilitation Centre for the Elderly.

Increasing prevention, reducing cancer rates

The ageing population is also associated to a rise in cancer incidence. As such, after taking over as head of the NCCS in November last year, Professor Hwang plans to go beyond treatment and encourage prevention methods.

"If we leave things as they are, cancer incidence would definitely get much higher, and the healthcare burden to the country would double or triple in the next 30 to 50 years," said Professor Hwang.

Professor William Hwang plans to go beyond treatment and to boost prevention to reduce cancer rates in the country. Photo credit: Aziz Hussin/The Straits Times
Professor William Hwang plans to go beyond treatment and to boost prevention to reduce cancer rates in the country. Photo credit: Aziz Hussin/The Straits Times

Professor Hwang plans to push for more screenings and higher rates of vaccinations as efforts for prevention. With these, pre-cancerous cells and early-stage cancers can be identified and prevented. Apart from that, he urged for smoking rates to be reduced as it pushes up cancer risks and complicates treatment methods for patients.

Involving palliative care is also in his plan, where patients can receive care that helps them cope, for example, being able to enjoy food.

“Quality of life is perhaps even more important to patients”, rather than just the patient’s survival. Therefore, having the palliative team involved will make the transition easier for the patient should he/she lose the fight.

He adds that he wants the NCCS to “cure often, relieve always, and comfort at every opportunity.” MIMS

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