“Able to video call?”
“Yes, let’s do it!” I replied.
Every now and then, my friend and I would check with each other whether we are available for a video chat. Seeing my friend on the other side of the screen helped to stave off the loneliness caused by the recent COVID-19 restrictions. This and other sweet gestures by my family and friends remind me that I am not alone, that I am loved and cared for.
I am conscious that this is a privilege though. Despite the tightened regulations, I am able to continue connecting with family and friends because I have access to and I am comfortable with digital communications technology.
But not everyone is.
I think about our vulnerable seniors, particularly those who live alone or struggle with digital literacy. How are they staying socially connected with the additional restrictions in place? Are they better prepared and able to adapt, given that the restrictions on social gathering and dining are not new? Are they becoming more vulnerable to abuse?
Since the start of the pandemic, the government and community have responded with a slew of measures to help our seniors stay socially connected. For example, the Infocomm Media Development Authority rolled out the Seniors Go Digital Movement to equip our seniors with digital skills. Also, some organisations have moved their activities and interactions online. I was quite heartened to hear of a virtual dialect storytelling session over Zoom that was able to engage more than 1,000 seniors.
But are these efforts enough? Can we do more to proactively identify and support vulnerable seniors who fall through the cracks?
Take, for example, an elderly man whom I visited several months ago. I only came to know about his situation because he had contacted us. I found out that he was living alone in his rented flat. He had an estranged relationship with his siblings and he had no friends. He was also not participating in any formal social activities, e.g., those organised by senior activity centres. If he had not reached out to us, his lack of social support would have gone unnoticed. This is not an isolated case. There are probably other seniors out there in the community who require support but do not know who to reach out to. It is especially urgent for socially isolated seniors who are experiencing abuse.
Here lies the chance for us to play our part. If you know of any seniors living alone, I encourage you to drop them a call to find out how they are faring during this period. That call could make a world of difference.
Helplines for Seniors:
- Agency for Integrated Care is centralised agency for the handling of referrals to intermediate and long-term care services: 1800-650-6060
- The Seniors Helpline responds to any concern regarding those who are 50 years and above: 1800-555 5555
- Lion Befrienders provide information, referral and befriender services: 1800-375 8600
Jorain Ng is a daughter, sister, and a Social Worker at Caritas Singapore. She has a habit of randomly sharing her reflections and takeaways from books and articles with her family and friends.