The Straits Times (31 March 2020)
If not, social isolation may result as activities organised for them are suspended to contain spread of coronavirus
Elderly people need to take greater care of their emotional and physical wellbeing, as social and fitness activities organised by government agencies for seniors are suspended further to contain the coronavirus spread, said experts.
Lack of meaningful activity engagement and less face time with other people could result in social isolation, boredom and possible low mood in the longer term, said senior psychologist June Lim from the department of psychology at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).
“This is especially so for the elderly who are more vulnerable to isolation and loneliness.”
Activities for seniors run by government agencies had been suspended for two weeks from March 11. The suspension was further extended to April 7, and now, April 30.
They include classes and activities at community and residents’ committee centres in areas such as music, dance, exercise and basic IT courses. The People’s Association, which runs these activities, said the suspension affects 2,600 classes and 11,000 activities attended by about 290,000 participants.
To keep boredom and loneliness at bay, Ms Lim recommends elderly people connect virtually with their friends via video calls, or download games on their tablets or phones to keep themselves engaged.
They could also go for short walks in the neighbourhood or bond with loved ones.
Retiree Sitabai Mohan is an example of a senior who takes the socialdistancing measures in her stride.
“You must take care of yourself as the Government can help with only certain things. Covid19 is a temporary thing and everything will become normal and fine,” she said.
Madam Mohan, who is in her 70s, spends most of her time watching dramas on YouTube at home as well as listening to Christian worship songs and testimonies.
She goes out once or twice a week but makes sure to avoid crowded places. While she no longer plays weekly card games with her friends at the Singapore Swimming Club, they still check on one another regularly to ensure everyone is well.
Madam Mohan also does some simple exercises such as walking to the bus stop and other places.
While avoiding social activities would keep seniors safe, such social distancing measures could take a toll on their physical health as well.
Senior physiotherapist Ooi Bee Yin from the department of physiotherapy at TTSH said that “lack of exercise may result in numerous health problems in the long run. It may increase the likelihood of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol”.
Besides achieving at least 150 minutes a week of moderateintensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, cycling or swimming, older adults should aim to include strength and balance exercises at least twice a week. Balance exercises improve the ability to control the body’s position and maintain stability when standing still or moving.
“In this Covid19 situation, we can continue our exercise routine even at home,” said Ms Ooi (see story below).
For retiree J. Wee, 78, the stricter measures have not stopped her from practising yoga, which she has been doing for the past 40 years. “Physically, I feel good, more relaxed and not easily tired,” she said in Mandarin, citing the benefits of exercise.
Madam Wee attends hatha yoga classes twice a week at the Awareness Hub, a department under Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, which runs wellness programmes. Each class has fewer than 10 students and lasts for 60 to 90 minutes. With further socialdistancing measures announced by the Government, however, these classes may be suspended or replaced by live streaming where possible, said a monastery spokesman.
Madam Wee also goes for weekly singing lessons – a small class with just herself and a friend.
Without organised activities, other seniors may not have much to do at home and such isolation can be harmful emotionally.
Ms Lim said it is important for the elderly to be aware of negative selftalk that could result in a low mood and they should seek appropriate professional help for it.
Executive director Grace Lee of Sage Counselling Centre said: “Some (elderly people) may experience fear or anxiety regarding Covid-19 so it is even more important to reach out to them.”
The nonprofit group runs The Seniors Helpline for people aged 50 and above and their caregivers. It offers a listening ear to their problems and provides information or referrals on eldercare services.
At Fei Yue Family Service Centre, community befrienders continue to telephone seniors whom they serve to check on their wellbeing.
“For those who are healthy and active, we encourage them to go out for a walk and do simple exercises, and to maintain personal hygiene and social distancing when doing so,” said a spokesman.