A senior couple engaging in physical activity by walking together on the beach

Quick Stats of the Elderly in Singapore

According to the Department of Statistics Singapore, there are around 5.6 million people in Singapore as of 2018. 13.7% of Singaporeans are at the age of 65 and older. Among this age group, 8,7% are between 65—74 years of age, while 5% are aged 75 years and over.

A study led by the Institute of Mental Health found that one in 10 people aged 60 and above (almost 82,000 people in 2018) may have dementia.

Dealing with Common Health Problems in the Elderly

With higher standards of living in our society and an ever-improving healthcare system, the life expectancy of Singaporeans has increased from 73 years in 1990 to 82 years in 2012.

Our first batch of baby boomers has also reached their retirement age by now. These baby boomers are equipped with a higher literacy rate, armed with higher-skilled jobs and are living a better quality of life. However, living longer may not equate to a healthy and active lifestyle.

As we grow older, it is natural to worry about our health as there is a myriad of health problems such as high cholesterol and other long-term health conditions to give pause to.

Some common health problems the elderly face include:

  • Arthritis
  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Respiratory Diseases
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Diabetes
  • Falls
  • Obesity
  • Depression

Modern science and advances in medicine have made it possible for people to live longer with better healthcare services, but it doesn’t mean that older adults can rely solely on modern medicine to stay healthy. It is still essential for us to:

  • continue eating healthy by eating more fruits and vegetables and avoiding unhealthy fats such as saturated fats, and
  • stay safe while engaging in an active, healthy lifestyle no matter how old we grow.

Enhancing Daily Living for Older People with Physical Limitations

As one age, the likelihood of physical limitations increases. Reduced vision, hearing, body balance, energy level, body agility and/or physical strength may be experienced. As we grow older, our immune systems may also not work as well. Some changes in our heart health and blood vessels also occur with age. In addition, the increased prevalence of chronic diseases such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease has also become a leading cause of death and illness in Singapore. This also leads to a further reduction of one’s mobility and ability to function independently in everyday life.

With the right strategies and early intervention by an Occupational Therapist, older people with physical limitations can be empowered to live a fulfilling life with active engagement and participation in daily activities.

With the impending silver tsunami, it is essential to ensure that our seniors remain in the pink of health and continue their active lifestyles by engaging in regular physical activity. Thus, promoting independence and keeping the seniors active in the community has become the crucial aims of quality living. Here are some suggestions on how Occupational Therapists can empower seniors with physical limitations to be actively participating in daily activities happily and with great ease:

Related: Go Gardening to Keep Dementia at Bay

#1 Redesigning their Daily Routines

An elderly man sticking to a regular routine as part of a healthy lifestyle

In order to help our seniors remain physically active and independent, it is essential to make healthy changes in one’s daily life. This includes planning each day with a focus on completing tasks of a higher priority. This helps them retain a strong sense of control in their lives.

In our busy world, there are often too many things to accomplish within the limits of a day. Time should be set aside, to list the tasks one wants to achieve and prioritise them accordingly. This helps to reduce mental stress as well as celebrate the accomplishment. For instance, important tasks should be completed early in the morning, when one’s energy is at a prime level. This is followed by less important tasks. Incorporating frequent breaks in the daily schedule also helps to ensure that energy levels go a long way.

Related: Stay healthy today, enjoy more tomorrows

#2 Promoting an Easier Daily Life

Put things on the floor away after use to prevent falls in the elderly.

There are many ways to encourage seniors with physical limitations to engage in daily activities.

Using built-up handles or universal cuffs on eating utensils can help those with grip difficulty feed themselves. Items such as the long-handled sponge, buttoner and shoehorn can be used in showering and dressing. These equipment allow seniors with trunk or upper limb stiffness to perform daily tasks in a seated position safely.

Front-load washing machines and portable low height laundry racks encourage ease of laundry management. Repositioning of microwaves and induction cookers to a lower height also promotes simple meal preparation for seniors in wheelchairs.

Related: Home Modifications for the Elderly

#3 Enhancing Vision

Elderly woman with reading glasses

With reduced vision, it is essential that larger fonts are used to help our seniors read better.

This includes re-labelling and enlarging the expiry dates on food items and medication, as well as using phones or light switches with enlarged numbers or buttons. The use of magnifiers can help them with reading newspapers and other labels.

Good lighting throughout the house, such as night lights along the stairways, bedrooms and toilets allow our loved ones to move safely and independently through their living spaces. Appropriate use of contrast, such as highlighting the edges of kerbs and steps with fluorescent tape or paint, can also heighten their awareness of possible hazards.

#4 Creating a Safe Home

Railings in the toilet can help prevent falls in the elderly.

Falls may threaten the health and independence of seniors. Hence, creating a safe living environment can enhance their ability to remain independent.

To reduce accidental falls, we can remove clutter around the house, as well as rearrange furniture to widen walkways. Loose wires and cables should be tied or taped to the wall or floor.

Consider placing non-slip mats in wet areas around the home, installing grab bars in toilets, and using shower chairs or bedside commodes, to enhance the safety of seniors with physical limitations.

Through the appropriate use of suitable adaptive equipment, we can greatly reduce the risk of falls at home.

Related: Falls Awareness and Prevention Programme

#5 Developing a Positive Social Well-being

An elderly man practising chinese calligraphy with other seniors and building strong social network for better mental health

Keeping an open mind to exploring new and meaningful activities can create a positive impact on our senior’s physical and mental well-being.

Encourage them to learn a new skill or pick up a new leisure activity such as granny ballet, folk dance, calligraphy or even tea appreciation. Studies have shown that continuous and lifelong learning helps maintain mental alertness.

With the availability of the Internet and social media, seniors can also easily access electronic services, grow their social network and actively participate in new social activities. They can also make new friends and renew their relationships with old ones. This can further strengthen their social network and enhance their quality of life.

In conclusion, physical limitations in old age may be inevitable. However, creating successful participation in daily life can enhance their experience of old age and self- confidence. The ideas outlined above are a few of the many other recommendations that can aid in promoting the independence of seniors with physical limitations. Occupational Therapists have a unique professional skill base of holistic assessment and enhancement of an individual’s performance through relevant interventions, consistent with promoting the experience of active and successful ageing.

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