There's nothing more heartbreaking than watching a loved one succumb to a life of loneliness, poor physical health and depression. Unfortunately,an alarming number of Singapore's elderly population has been facing this type of situation. With geriatric suicides and depression at an all time high among elderly citizens in Singapore, it hardly matters that healthcare advancements have led to longer lifespans. Afterall, who wants to live a long life plagued by chronic physical pain and quickly declining mental faculties? Furthermore, with Singapore's elderly population facing financial burdens as they leave the workforce, it may seem like options to improve their quality of life are slim. While it's true that some seniors may not be able to afford the lifestyle they are used to, there are still many affordable things the elderly can do to improve their life satisfaction.
Take Advantage of Every Subsidy the Government Offers
The inability to get your previous level of income and surviving only on your savings can be daunting as life expectancy increases. Utilising every channel of government help may reduce some of that financial burden and reduce the mental stress that comes with it. While there is still room for improvement, Singapore does have a variety of subsidy schemes and programmes that can provide financial assistance worth thousands of dollars each year. For instance, there is the Pioneer Generation Disability Assistance Scheme that gives S$100 a month to Pioneers (Singaporean citizens born before 1950 and gained citizenship before 1987) who have disabilities. You can also apply to get the Medical Fee Exemption Card if you are financially needy and are staying in a nursing home. This card allows for free treatment at restructured hospitals, polyclinics and medium to long term care facilities.
|Government Subsidy||What It Provides||Payment Amount|
|ElderShield||Long-term care insurance for severe disability||S$300-S$400/month|
|Seniors Mobility and Enabling Fund||Assistive Devices such as walking stick, wheelchair, pushchair, spectacles, hearing aids & Home Healthcare Items such as catheters, adult diapers||Varies|
|Pioneer Generation Disability Assistance Scheme||Stipend and subsidies for disabled Pioneer citizens||S$100/month|
|Caretaker Training Grant||Subsidy for those learning to be a caregiver||S$200/year|
|GST Voucher||Provides cash, medisave top-ups and utility bill rebates for low-income Singaporeans||Varies|
|Public Transport Concession Card||Provides subsidies for basic bus and train services||Varies|
|Enhancement for Active Seniors||Subsidies senior-friendly HDB installments such as grab bars||Up to 95% Subsidy|
|ComCare Long Term Assistance||Cash assistance for those who are unable to work due to old age, disability, family circumstance||S$500-S$1,450|
Focus on Increasing Happiness Through Affordable Hobbies
Retirement is the perfect time to start prioritising your well-being. After a lifetime of raising children and giving back to the community, it is time to reinvest that energy into small, manageable activities that bring you joy over the course of your day. These things don't have to take up a lot of time or energy—in fact something as simple as taking care of plants, painting or engaging low-impact exercise has been shown to increase cognitive abilities and decrease stress in the elderly.
For instance, elderly Singaporeans can get their own garden plot for as little as S$57 per year. This is a particularly good idea for those who live alone as it gives a chance to make new friends within their community, reducing the chance of isolation-related maladies such as depression and alzheimers. However, even those who may not be able to garden can still benefit from horticulture simply by taking care of plants within their flats. If you want to go a step further, getting a pet can also aid in dissipating loneliness and tempering emotions. In fact, it has become quite common to use pets for emotional support and therapy and there are even some senior homes in the United States introducing dogs to their residents to promote happiness and well-being.
Simplify Your Finances by Consolidating Bills and Downsizing
While it makes sense to have a 4-room flat when you live with several family members, it may be make more fiscal sense to downgrade to a 1 or 2-room flat when it's just you or your and your spouse. If you can manage to sell directly, you may even end up with a small profit, provided your home loan is already paid off. In fact, choosing to sell your unit for a smaller flat and using some of those proceeds to top up your retirement account qualifies you for the Silver Housing Bonus of S$20,000 in cash. Alternatively, if you wish to stay in your home, you can either rent out extra rooms or consider the Lease Buyback Scheme. The Lease Buyback Scheme will work best if you have no dependents, since you sell part of your remaining lease to the government in exchange for a S$10,000-S$20,000 bonus to top-up your CPF account.
Secondly, people with a lot of medical bills and personal loans can consider consolidating their personal debt through debt consolidation plans, which combine all one's high interest loans into one loan with a lower interest rate. To make everyday living a little easier, you can also consider disposing of (or selling to make some extra money) cumbersome or underutilised furniture and appliances. Reducing clutter in your home can make it easier to not only maintain tidiness, but also to teach you to keep only the things that bring you true value and happiness.
Invest in the Right Outside Help (Domestic Helpers vs. Nursing Homes)
Elderly citizens need round the clock care who are living alone or have children who are too busy can consider getting a domestic helper. Full-time foreign domestic workers (FDW) provide all the necessary care and will live in your apartment, making it easier to get help in case of an emergency while also providing companionship. However, despite FDWs costing more than part-time helpers or cleaners, there are things you can do to make employming one more affordable. For instance, you can also qualify for a FDW levy concession, reducing your monthly fee to the government from S$265 to S$60. Furthermore, instead of sticking to the agency's default FDW insurance policy that tend to pricey, you can find more affordable options that do much more for your finances. In fact, while some maid insurance plans that cost upwards of S$350, some of the best value FDW plans cost under S$200 for 2 years and even provide reimbursements in case you need to replace your domestic helper. These two things alone can save you at least several hundred dollars per year in domestic-worker related expenses (if not thousands if you have to change your helper).
Ideally, you should look for a worker that has experience working with the elderly, has received training in caregiving and has experience working in Singaporean households to avoid spending money on a domestic worker that doesn't match your needs. If you need medical care in addition to daily life assistance, it may be worth getting a qualified caregiver. Likewise, individuals who can no longer stay at home alone may find more benefit in a nursing home, as they provide an all-in one place for medical attention, companionship and round the clock care. While they can be costly, a high quality nursing home can bring peace of mind to you and your loved ones, provide easy access to a community and reduce the chance of deadly accidents.
Participate in Community Events and Don't Be Afraid to Reach Out
One of the scariest things about getting old is realising the mortality of those around you. This facet of life can lead to loneliness,and depression. Isolation is one of the leading causes of a decreased quality of life among the elderly that can lead to crushing mental disorders. Luckily, Singapore has a variety of community events and resources that cater to the elderly. For instance, EventBrite has dozens of senior friendly events ranging from chair yoga to art courses to health seminars. Most of these events are free while some can cost between S$10-S$75. There are also senior day care centers such as the AWWA Senior Activity Centre and NTUC Health centres. Prices for activities in these centres range from free to a few hundred dollars per month.
As for resources, there is the Silverpages website, which posts information about subsidies for assistive devices (wheelchairs, canes) and various counselling services. If you need medical attention, there are healthcare centres such as the United Medicare Centre and St Luke's Eldercare centres. If you are in need of mental health services or you know someone in need, please consider reaching out to the helplines listed below.
- Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline: 6389 2222
- Samaritans of Singapore Hotline: 1800 221 4444
- Singapore Association of Mental Health Helpline: 1800 283 7019
Happier Seniors Make for Healthier Seniors
While happiness is subjective and many can argue that true happiness is unattainable with the burdens of old age, there are nonetheless scientifically proven ways to decrease stress and increase well-being in the elderly. Companionship (whether in the form of a domestic worker or a friend), getting enough sun, keeping your mind active and having a hobby are all great ways to increase life satisfaction. Furthermore, with the advent of technology, financial and mental support is usually a phone call or website away and its become more convenient than ever to get support either from the government or independent organisations. It is also just as important to provide support in any way you can if you are the child or grandchild of an elderly relative. One day, you'll be in their shoes too.