Ageing in Place
Mr Koh Cheng Leong is a regular sight at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) on a typical Saturday. Tablet in hand, the 66-year old would visit patients. But he isn’t there to watch videos on the tablet with them or entertain them. Rather, he is there to help senior patients who just had a total knee replacement surgery recover better and faster, through simple exercises that they can do on their hospital beds.
“The work that you put in is important for recovery,” said Mr Koh. “You can’t wait until you come back to the hospital to work with the physiotherapist on your recovery.”
Mr Koh speaks with conviction, because he had a knee replacement surgery done in the same hospital in January 2016. He clearly remembered his experience post-surgery. “I’ll be lying if I said it wasn’t painful after surgery. But the nurses took care of me very well when I was here,” He continued. “Then, there were no volunteers to teach patients these exercises. So, besides the physiotherapist who would come and teach us how to walk, the nurses would teach us some simple exercise using rolled towels. We would do it at home after we were discharged.”
Mr Koh worked hard to ensure his recovery: practising how to walk at home and doing stretching exercises regularly. Three months later, he returned to his job as a security guard.
His recovery and the care that he received prompted Mr Koh to volunteer when TTSH was looking for seniors volunteers to support other seniors who had undergone knee replacement surgery. This is one of three areas of volunteering for seniors under the Temasek Foundation – Centre for Health Activation Mobilises Para-clinical Seniors (CHAMPS) programme.
Launched in October 2018, the programme differs from other senior volunteerism programmes that mainly involved activities like befriending or way-finding. Under CHAMPS, volunteers like Mr Koh are taught para-clinical skills, which can include simple exercises to aid in recovery after surgery, taking down the patient's medical history or demonstrating the right way to apply eye drops. Dr Mark Chan, Divisional Chairman, Integrative and Community Care and Senior Consultant, Department of Geriatric Medicine, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, shared that seniors are more aware of medical issues and have a much better rapport with patients, which makes them good candidates to volunteer in areas which sees many senior patients. “Volunteers would learn skills related to healthcare, which they can use to enrich their own healthcare journeys subsequently. Also, the engagement of volunteerism would keep their minds active,” he added.
An untapped pool of resources
Indeed, many healthy and active seniors are a ready volunteer pool that can be a force for good.
As a rapidly ageing population, the proportion of Singapore residents aged 65 years and over has increased from 8.7% in 2008 to 13.7% in 2018. By 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be aged 65 years or older. This will significantly increase the demand for healthcare services and aged care provisions.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Health had estimated that Singapore would need some 30,000 more healthcare workers by 2020 to meet the demands of the ageing population. There is therefore a pressing need to grow a pool of engaged and skilled allied support who can support hospital staff and the community to enhance care for frail seniors.
For Ivy Ng, 63, who worked in a multinational corporation, retirement nine years ago meant having more time with her family, especially her aged mother who has dementia. However, she was also proactively looking for opportunities to volunteer. “I wanted to contribute, or 'pay back' some of my time to the community,” she said. Her search took her to the Singapore Patient Conference in 2017, organised by TTSH. There, she was deeply impressed by volunteers who shared about their volunteering experiences. “I left my number with TTSH after the conference, and they called me back to ask if I was keen to volunteer at the eye clinic,” she recounted. “I thought: ‘Well, that’s something I can do.’ So I took up the opportunity, came in for the induction programme and got trained.”
All volunteers under the CHAMPS programme have to undergo training as they have para-clinical duties and must impart the right information to patients. This also means that they have to commit to at least six months of service to qualify for the training.
Ivy underwent a structured and experiential training curriculum conducted by the clinical team. Besides learning care navigation and how to befriend patients at the eye clinic, Ivy also learnt how to record the medical history of patients, explain to patients about visual eye tests and demonstrate the proper way to instill eye drops.
Meanwhile, Mr Koh learnt from the hospital’s physiotherapist how to teach patients simple stretching exercises. “The physiotherapists would demonstrate the exercises and then give me feedback when I do them. Only when they were confident that I could teach the exercises did I start working with the first patient,” Mr Koh explained. “Of course, I was a little concerned at first. But with experience, I grew more confident.” He added, “It helps that I’m around the same age as the patients here undergoing knee replacement surgery. We can ‘click’ and communicate. Moreover, because I had the surgery done before, they have confidence in what I say.”
The spirit of volunteering that continues to give
The two-year CHAMPS pilot programme aims to train 160 seniors as skilled volunteers in three clinical programmes: Inpatient Total Knee Replacement, Eye Clinic and Hospital Elder Life Programme (prevention of delirium). As at February 2019, 38 volunteers have been trained. Together, they have supported 635 senior patients.
It has been a year since Mr Koh and Ivy started on their maiden volunteering journeys, and both have not looked back. “I feel a sense of achievement and satisfaction when the patients are willing to follow the exercises I teach them. Some were not able to stretch their legs fully, but after the exercises they could, and they thanked me profusely. That motivates me,” said Mr Koh, who still works as a security guard and volunteers only on weekends.
As for Ivy, she has so caught on the volunteering spirit that she has begun encouraging friends to volunteer as well. “The smiles on the patients’ and caregivers’ faces bring me much joy and fulfilment.”