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Home > About TTSH > News > $5.8m initiative to tackle breathlessness in seniors
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Mr Suresh, a senior therapy assistant at Awwa, assisting Madam Wong Siew Sin with light exercises as part of the Air Master service, which aims to help those with lung and heart conditions manage their breathlessness. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO​

The Straits Times​ (17 November​ 2023)​​​

A new network of care services will be developed to treat breathlessness in seniors​​ with chronic lung and heart conditions here, and will receive funding of $5.8 million over five years.​

On Thursday, the Lien Foundation and Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) said the Breathlessness Ecosystem will equip and provide training to community-based services such as active ageing centres and hospice day care centres to handle patients with breathlessness out of a hospital setting.

When ready, it will be available to patients across the National Healthcare Group’s (NHG) network of hospitals, including TTSH, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and Woodlands Health, polyclinics and private primary care clinics.

About $5.4 million of the funding will come from the Lien Foundation, while the remaining amount will be in the form of in-kind contributions from TTSH.

The two organisations said the initiative aims to reduce healthcare costs by keeping patients out of hospitals, noting that heart and lung failures generate the highest healthcare expenditure among advanced illnesses in Singapore.

In a local study published in the medical journal Age And Ageing in October 2021, researchers found that in their last year of life, patients with heart failure spent $49,900 and patients with lung failure $42,900 – outstripping the $31,200 spent by cancer patients.

Lien Foundation chief executive officer Lee Poh Wah said hospitals and community partners would work together to offer a palliative care approach for patients in the early stages of heart and lung disease, focusing on the symptoms of their conditions.

“By building the ecosystem of services in the community, we hope to alleviate the suffering of vulnerable patients and their caregivers while averting unnecessary hospitalisations,” said Mr Lee.

Symptoms of breathlessness, or dyspnoea, include shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and a feeling of suffocation.

Up to 90 per cent of people here with chronic heart and lung disease are affected by dyspnoea.

One feature of the new ecosystem, the Air Master service​, is in place, with Awwa, Ren Ci Hospital and St Luke’s Eldercare helping patients with chronic lung and heart conditions learn to manage their symptoms of breathlessness.

The 10-week service includes cardiopulmonary rehabilitation sessions to build physical strength and endurance, patient education on how to better manage the conditions and anxiety reduction. Air Master is fully subsidised, and patients get transport vouchers to help them get to their sessions.

The service, which was rolled out in October, hopes to help about 800 patients over five years.

“Air Master is bringing together care from different specialities – rehabilitation, cardiology, respiratory, palliative, and allied health – for a community-based approach to helping patients manage their breathlessness and other debilitating symptoms,” said Breathlessness Ecosystem project lead Neo Han Yee.

“Through continued efforts to increase awareness and access to early rehabilitation, we want more patients to start managing their symptoms early, slow their functional decline, and reduce the need for hospitalisations throughout the trajectory of their disease, which can last for many years,” said Dr Neo, who is also palliative medicine head at TTSH.

An 83-year-old patient with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lee, told reporters that Air Master had helped him manage his breathlessness, making it easier for him to get around.​

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