Overcoming frailty with community support

Overcoming frailty with community support

Caption: Mdm Chew (right) chatting with TOUCH staff Mdm Tracy Lee

74-year-old Mdm Chew Swee Lay had fallen more than 10 times in the last two decades. Plagued by osteoarthritis in both knees and persistent numbness in her legs, she had to make freqent trips to the polyclinic. Mdm Chew was then working as a factory operator.

“Once, I fell and was warded in the hospital for 25 days! My doctor checked and said I was fine. But I insisted I wasn’t. He then referred me to a specialist. It was then they discovered I had a back bone fracture and the nerves were pressing on my bone. No wonder I could not lift my legs!” said Mdm Chew.

Undeterred, Mdm Chew was determined to get well. She started using a quad stick and was given a lighter work load. She finally retired at 62.

Battling loneliness
Being single and living alone in a three room flat in Ang Mo Kio, Mdm Chew was bored. “I try to keep my mind occupied by reading the newspaper. What else can I do? Where can I go? I do not mind meeting friends to chit chat but I usually end up staying at home,” added Mdm Chew.

Two years ago, Mdm Chew went for knee replacement surgery as the pain was unbearable. Her neighbour, 80-year-old Madam Han Kim Eng, who is a befriendee under TOUCH’s Community Befriending Programme, flagged her case to TOUCH staff as she felt that her friend needed help at home.

“When Mdm Han shared with me, she sounded so assuring. I was touched and relieved to know there are people who can help me at home,” added Mdm Chew.

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Caption: Mdm Chew (right) exercising with residents and learning to keep fit

After assessing her needs, Mdm Chew was placed under the care of a befriender who would visit and check to see if she needed help. TOUCH's physiotherapist helped Mdm Chew regain her mobility by prescribing a walking frame and taught her how to use it. She was also put on a nine-week rehabilitation programme to help her build muscle strength and endurance.

Caption: Mdm Chew with befriender Mdm Thang Gek Choo

A new chapter
When Mdm Chew showed up at the void deck to exercise, she was surprised to see so many residents. Soon, she started making new friends, sharing tips and updating everyone about the latest news in the neighbourhood.

Caption: Mdm Chew (extreme right) relaxing with fellow residents and TOUCH staff

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Caption: Mdm Chew learning more about mobile apps from a student volunteer

“Suddenly, I feel liberated. It’s like there’s a reason for me to come down. It gives me something to look forward to. People here have learnt to be sensitive to the needs of old people. This gives seniors like us a sense of security and acceptance. I feel stronger too,” said Mdm Chew with a smile.

“Frailty is not an inevitable part of ageing, and with the right intervention, we can reduce the number of elderly who will fall in this category. Mdm Chew’s example shows what we are trying to achieve through our community enablement efforts – to draw seniors like her into the social space, to enjoy a meal and learn together,” said Mr Kavin Seow, Senior Director, TOUCH Elderly Group.