Special Feature - Perspective of a Young Volunteer: Mobility? Challenges faced within the home
Imagine waking up, walking to the toilet to brush your teeth. Or just walking to the light switch to flick it on. What if I told you, one hundred thousand people in Singapore can’t do this?
This is exactly the challenge of wheelchair-users in living in our midst.
Wheelchair service users consist of both the elderly and people with disabilities (PWDs). However, with a rapidly ageing population, the former group is set to take up a majority of the hundred thousand and more. These elderly wheelchair-users experience inconveniences commuting outside, lack of ramps and wheelchair friendly facilities. As such, great difficulties in travelling would make them more predisposed to staying within the confines of their homes. But what if you would experience the same level of inconvenience in the supposed comfort of your homes?
Many of them have to deal with home furnishings that are either too tall or too short for them. Structures that are too tall would mean hands and bodies outstretched while those that are too short causes the awkward bending of bodies to lower oneself while being restricted by the wheelchair. Toilets and kitchens also tend to include built-in curbs, more so at entrances, making access to them a challenge. We take these for granted in our own homes. But for these senior wheelchair users, this mobility is something so precious, yet rarely available.
The lack of mobility they face at home is far more concerning when you realize that ageing alone is an increasing trend. In 2018, the number of old people aged 65 and above who live independently has nearly tripled over the last 15 years.
“Challenges at home can impact the ability of elderly wheelchair-users in carrying out Activities for Daily Living (ADLs), which includes washing, feeding, dressing, mobility and transferring independently”, mentioned by a staff from COMNET Senior Service.
Struggling to perform ADLs can consequently affect their independence and even become a source of worry for their family members. That being said, there are many avenues available that can improve the home environment for these senior wheelchair-users. Professional advice can be sought from occupational therapists who are able to recommend home modifications. Such modifications can aid in designing houses more user-friendly for these elderly. For sure, finances may be a concern for those seeking home modifications. However, these recommendations can be passed on to social workers and the community, who can help towards easing these financial concerns and arrange for the necessary support. Some available avenues include the Seniors’ Mobility and Enabling Fund (SMF) and the Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE) programme.
However, functional abilities tend to change among wheelchair service users as muscles continue to weaken and degenerate with age. This means that clients may require further modification, or even a complete change in mobility equipment. Such remedial support can hence be a turn-off for these seniors because they see less value in going through the hassle of changing equipment, only rendering these resources ineffective in due course. Hence, more funds can be directed towards more long-term changes with further attention to the needs of our senior wheelchair service users.
On a more individual level, if you are visiting the home of a wheelchair user, you can play a part by helping to shift some furniture to make the living area more spacious, allowing the wheelchair to be maneuvered with ease. You can even introduce them to SMF and EASE, as some may be less literate and unknowingly left in the dark about such schemes. Such actions, although seemingly inconsequential, can go a long way in improving the daily lives of our elderly wheelchair-users.
As a community, we can also continue to be more understanding and mindful towards our senior wheelchair-users. To be able to step out of their homes, is already a feat in itself. We can further enhance their experience outside by giving way to them on ramps or giving them priority in lifts, greatly reducing their distress.
Many of these senior wheelchair-users are the pioneers of our country. What if they were your grandparents? I’m sure you would want them to age happily and comfortably. This is the least we could do and both you and I can play a part in doing so.
If you would like to support seniors with mobility issues, click HERE!