(Cik Asma with one of our staff. Credit : GERSG)
Cik Asma (not her real name) is an 83-year-old suffering from dementia, among other illnesses. When we visited her to distribute our monthly aid hampers, she struggled to walk towards the door to open it for us. As we chatted with her, we were met with a shocking discovery - despite her age and deteriorating condition, Cik Asma is living alone.
For many of us, it’s unfathomable to even think of leaving our elders to suffer through the trials of old age alone. Yet sadly, this is the reality for Cik Asma, and for as many as 8.9% of her peers aged 65 and above (41,200 people). Worse still, this number is projected to increase as our population rapidly ages.
A study done by the Center for Aging Research and Education (CARE) found that most elders living alone are doing so because they are widowed or have never married, have conflict with family members, or have had negative experiences with previous roommates.
This can become dangerous if they develop critical illnesses, or if their mental faculties deteriorate. Our volunteers and partners have recounted many stories of elders who fell or injured themselves while alone, and were unable to seek help. For those like Cik Asma who suffer dementia or Alzheimer’s, it’s even easier to accidentally harm themselves.
On top of that, elders living alone are more likely to experience loneliness and dissatisfaction.
“Researchers have found that chronic loneliness is associated with a greater risk of heart disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety. It’s also associated with a shorter life span. Being lonely raises mortality more than obesity or sedentary living does.” said Dr Chris Tsoi, a senior consultant from the department of psychological medicine at the National University Hospital (NUH).
The COVID-19 pandemic is also making matters worse. To protect seniors – a vulnerable group at a higher risk of getting a severe infection – activities for them were suspended, and most of their social spaces closed. The lack of social interaction and physical activity results in even poorer mental health for elders already struggling with loneliness.
So how can we help improve the lives of these forgotten elders?
We can start small with those closest to us. Make it a habit to call and check on our senior family members, and visit them if time and COVID regulations allow. Even a phone call every now and then reminds them that they are loved and cared for, and gives them the social interaction they need.
We should also make an effort to get to know elderly neighbours. Often, for those without family, neighbours are the closest contacts they have. Our partner Yishun 71 is a wonderful example of how a neighbourhood can come together to take care of its members. Volunteers from Yishun 71 have built a support network that helps elders, single mothers, and other struggling families in their area.
You can also volunteer with befriender organisations whose sole mission is to provide company and comfort for lonely elders. We at GERSG are also taking steps to improve the aid we give to people like Cik Asma as part of our Adopt an Elder program!
What is Adopt An Elder?
As we talked with Cik Asma, we realised that aside from living needs like groceries and adult diapers, what she truly needed was simply some company and a listening ear. She, like many of our elderly beneficiaries, teared up when it was time to say goodbye, and implored us to return soon.
“You can come whenever you want, I’m always ready to welcome you!” she told us.
Our upcoming Adopt an Elder program aims to provide more than just material needs to struggling elders. We plan to recruit donors with extra time and an open heart, to not only sponsor their monthly needs, but also visit them regularly to keep them company in their silver years.
Follow GERSG’s Instagram and Facebook for updates on this project, and check out our other local projects here. You can also volunteer your time for our monthly distributions, events, and other activities by signing up here!
In these trying times, let’s not forget to extend a helping hand to anyone who might need it, especially our elders.