Reaching out to the elderly who live alone has its challenges
Social workers say it is important for those who live alone to build relationships with the community
The incident at the Shore Residences, where the remains of a woman who died alone in her condominium were found nearly two years after she was last seen, highlights the plight of the elderly who live alone and who may be isolated from society.
It also shows the challenges the community faces in engaging them, say politicians and social workers.
Ms Karen Wee, deputy executive director of Lions Befrienders, told The New Paper that during the circuit breaker between April and June, it was alerted to four seniors who had attempted suicide.
This compared with an average of one suicide attempt every three to six months before Covid-19.
Ms Wee said one of the four, a single 86-year-old woman, was saved in time by a friend who regularly checked in on her, highlighting the importance of being socially connected.
She said: "Self-isolating at home can lead to a drop in social connectedness, which is a major determinant of health and well-being for seniors."
She said telltale signs of trouble include meals left hanging at the gate, a foul smell, or newspapers sticking out of letterboxes for an unusual length of time.
Ms Wee said the circuit breaker period caused many seniors who lived alone to feel confused, sad, depressed and anxious.
To tackle such situations, Ms Grace Lee, executive director at SAGE Counselling Centre, said it is important for the elderly living alone to build relationships with those in their community.
Ms Lee said: "If you are not close to your neighbours, they may brush it off when they don't see you after a while, thinking you've moved out of your home or gone to the hospital, when something could have happened to you at home."
Member of Parliament (MP) for Mountbatten SMC Lim Biow Chuan said it is even more sad to hear of people dying alone.
He said for those living alone and who are keen, efforts are made to link them up with voluntary welfare organisations who can check on them regularly.
But not all elderly people want to be engaged, he noted.
Mr Lim said: "There are some residents who are very private and do not want to be disturbed. We cannot impose on them."
MP for MacPherson, Ms Tin Pei Ling, said the community - from direct neighbours to condominium security guards - should keep a look out for the vulnerable in their estates.
Ms Tin said: "Some of the elderly have their own network of friends. For those who don't, grassroots and community organisations organise events and activities to create the platform for them to make friends.
"But it takes two hands to clap. For those who are more socially withdrawn, it can be challenging to engage them."
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
Institute of Mental Health's crisis helpline: 6389-2222
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800