SINGAPORE — Beyond financial incentives from the Government’s Pioneer Generation Package, there is a need to strengthen social support networks, which can bring better health outcomes for senior citizens, researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have suggested.
Their study, which is ongoing, showed that the lower-income elderly have weaker social support and are, therefore, less likely to attend health screenings.
The three-year study, which was shared yesterday during an NUS symposium on successful ageing, found that having close friends and family members is important, as they are the ones who would encourage the elderly to go for blood tests for diabetes and cholesterol.
Seniors who stay connected with friends and family can receive better information on diseases and health screenings. Women with better social support can also rely on family and friends to help with domestic duties so they can go for regular mammograms, the study concluded.
But the researchers’ findings showed that those who have lower household income and who live in one- to three-room Housing and Development Board flats tend to have weaker social support. This, in turn, affected their attendance at health screenings, said the study’s team leader, NUS sociologist Associate Professor Paulin Straughan.
She added: “There are people who are social isolates and, unfortunately, there is a strong relation between being social isolates and being poor, so this is the group we need to reach out to.”
The study, which involved 1,540 respondents aged between 50 and 69, will conclude next month. Public health and sociology researchers involved in the study are working with their Korean and Chinese counterparts to provide a cross-cultural comparison on successful ageing.
The researchers noted that family norms in Singapore were changing and cautioned that successful ageing could mean different things across ethnic and income groups.
Assoc Prof Straughan felt that empowering voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) and forming a group of community volunteers are key to improving social support for the lower-income elderly.
She said VWOs have already formed good synergies with the community. Citing the Pioneer Generation Package, Assoc Prof Straughan said there is a lack of understanding of this policy among beneficiaries, and that the Government could tap VWOs to help clear up any misconceptions.
Volunteers could also engage the elderly on everyday issues and help them connect with society. New retirees could also volunteer, organising activities and helping the elderly find their relevance in the community, she added.
To capitalise on existing touchpoints in the community healthcare system, Assoc Prof Straughan further suggested that the elderly be allowed to consult with the same physician when going for check-ups at polytechnics, to enable them to build a relationship with their doctors.
Meanwhile, a qualitative study in 2011, which involved 120 elderly residents, showed that those living alone in rental or one-room flats might not necessarily suffer from social isolation. Some were found to be resourceful in forming social networks with neighbours or were in regular contact with their children, said the study’s researcher, NUS Associate Professor Thang Leng Leng.