“Work is wonderful for you. You’ll rust out quicker than you’ll wear out,” Colonel Sanders, founder of fast food chain KFC, told The New Yorker. He successfully franchised his fried chicken recipe in his 60s – and continued to handle all the bookkeeping and paperwork, while his wife handled the mixing, packing, and shipping of herbs.

While not all of us have the same entrepreneurial instincts, the Colonel’s drive and vitality in his later years is certainly inspirational. Singapore has a vision to give seniors that same zeal for life – to empower them to “live well and age gracefully”, says Tan Kwang Cheak, CEO of the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC).

That is crucial as the city’s population greys rapidly, with 25 per cent of Singaporeans set to be aged 65 and above by 2030. Tan shares how tech is helping to achieve this vision and support caregivers during the pandemic and beyond.

Tech to engage seniors

Community care providers are turning to tech to engage seniors. Virtual reality, for instance, is useful in maintaining seniors’ psychological and social wellbeing by keeping them active and entertained, Tan says.

NTUC Health, a community care service provider, has used virtual reality to bring seniors through the colourful statues at Singapore’s Haw Par Villa attraction. This increased the social interaction among the seniors as they cheer one another on and share their life experiences, he says.

AIC’s other partners are working on using virtual reality for dementia education and awareness, such as how to design a  dementia-friendly environment, Tan adds.

The sector is also looking to robotics and automation to complement care. While they “cannot replace the human touch in delivering care services, they can help save time and money” and improve productivity, he says.

The Salvation Army’s Peacehaven Nursing Home has been using automated guided vehicles since 2019 to deliver meals to its 380 residents. This has helped to cut down delivery times by 20 minutes, allowing care staff to spend more time with residents, Tan says.

THK Nursing Home has also introduced tele-presence robots in exercise or crafting sessions. The seniors can see the volunteers on screen providing instructions on carrying out the activities. As seniors follow along, volunteers will be able to observe their progress, Tan explains.

Relieving caregiver stress

Caring for the frail or disabled is no easy feat. More than 40 per cent of stroke survivor caregivers have depressive symptoms, according to a 2017 study by the Institute of Mental Health and the National University of Singapore.

During the pandemic, AIC developed additional initiatives to support caregivers as care services were disrupted, Tan says. It published three activity booklets online to help caregivers engage loved ones at home. The agency also shared tips on staying safe and simple exercises for seniors on TV.

Its community care partners rolled out online initiatives, such as counselling and mindfulness activities, to support caregivers, he adds.

The agency also worked with the Alzheimer’s Disease Association to support caregivers of dementia patients.

Caregivers could register for ‘identifiers’, such as a sticker with an emergency contact, that can help the public and authorities recognise persons living with dementia and offer assistance. This would also be useful if these persons  unknowingly break Covid-19 regulations, Tan explains.

Collaborations are key

The elderly face much higher risks with Covid-19. AIC’s strategy for protecting them is to support care providers in keeping the virus at bay; and in the event of an outbreak, to control the spread and recover as quickly as possible, Tan says.

When a cluster of infections emerged at an nursing home last year, AIC set up a response team to quickly contain the outbreak, he adds. This brought together staff from the home, AIC officials, public health experts, and lab services.

AIC has also served as the “central communication node” to the community care sector. This was crucial as there were gaps in information, and even misinformation, in the early stages of the pandemic, Tan says.

The agency worked with the Ministry of Health and public health experts to create guidelines for the care sector. These guidelines were tailored to specific providers’ constraints, he reveals.

Tan shares that he’s excited to work with partners to build an “integrated community care ecosystem” for Singapore. “Our purpose remains – to enable our Singaporeans to live well and age gracefully, and to help Singapore be one of the best places to age in.”