As one ages, the likelihood of physical limitations increases. Reduced vision, hearing, body balance, energy level, body agility and/ or physical strength may be experienced. In addition, the increased prevalence of chronic diseases has also become a significant cause of illness and death in Singapore. This also leads to the further reduction of one’s mobility and ability to function independently in everyday life.

With higher standards of living in our society, and an ever improving healthcare system, the life expectancy of Singaporeans has increased from 73 years in 1990, to 82 years in 2012. Our first batch of baby boomers has also reached their retirement age by now. These baby boomers are equipped with a higher literacy rate, armed with higherskilled jobs and are living a better quality of life. However, living longer may not equate to a healthy and active lifestyle.

With the impending silver tsunami, it is essential to ensure that our seniors remain in the pink of health and continue their active lifestyles. Thus, promoting independence and keeping the seniors active in the community have become the crucial aims of quality living.

Here are some suggestions on how Occupational Therapists can empower seniors with physical limitations to be actively participating in daily activities happily and with great ease:

1. Redesigning Their Daily Routines 

In order to help our seniors remain active and independent, it is essential to make healthy changes in one’s daily life. This includes planning each day with a focus on completing tasks of a higher priority. This helps them retain a strong sense of control in their lives.

In our busy world, there are often too many things to accomplish within the limits of a day. Time should be set aside, to list the tasks one wants to achieve and prioritise them accordingly. This helps to reduce mental stress as well as celebrate the accomplishment.

For instance, important tasks should be completed early in the morning, when one’s energy is at a prime level. This is followed by less important tasks. Incorporating frequent breaks in the daily schedule also helps to ensure that energy levels go a longer way. 

2. Promoting an Easier Daily Life

There are many ways to encourage seniors with physical limitations through engaging in daily activities.

Using built-up handles or universal cuffs on eating utensils can help those with grip difficulty feed themselves. Items such as the long handled sponge, buttoner and shoe horn can be used in showering and dressing. These equipments allow seniors with trunk or upper limb stiffness to perform daily tasks in a seated position safely.

Front load washing machines and portable low height laundry racks encourage ease of laundry management. Repositioning of microwaves and induction cookers to a lower height also promotes simple meal preparation for seniors in wheelchairs.

3. Enhancing Vision

With reduced vision, it is essential that larger fonts are used to help our seniors read better.

This includes relabelling and enlarging the expiry dates on food items and medication, as well as using phones or light switches with enlarged numbers or buttons. The use of magnifiers can help them with reading newspapers and other labels.

Good lighting throughout the house, such as night lights along the stairways, bedrooms and toilets allow our loved ones to move safely and independently through their living spaces.

Appropriate use of contrast, such as highlighting the edges of kerbs and steps with fluorescent tape or paint, can also heighten their awareness of possible hazards.

4. Creating a Safe Home

Falls may threaten the health and independence of seniors. Hence, creating a safe living environment can enhance their ability to remain independent.

To reduce accidental falls, we can remove clutter around the house, as well as rearrange furniture to widen walkways. Loose wires and cables should be tied or taped to the wall or floor. Consider placing non-slip mats in wet areas around the home, installing grab bars in toilets, and using shower chairs or bedside commodes, to enhance the safety of seniors with physical limitations.

Through the appropriate use of suitable adaptive equipment, we can greatly reduce the risk of falls at home.

5. Developing a Positive Social Well-being

Keeping an open mind to exploring new and meaningful activities can create a positive impact on our senior’s physical and mental well-being. Encourage them to learn a new skill or pick up a new leisure activity such as granny ballet, folkdance, calligraphy or even tea appreciation. Studies have shown that continuous and lifelong learning helps maintain mental alertness.

With the availability of the Internet and social media, seniors can also easily access electronic services, grow their social network and actively participate in new social activities. They can also make new friends and renew their relationships with old ones. This can further strengthen their social network and enhance their quality of life.

In conclusion, physical limitations in old age may be inevitable. However, creating successful participation in daily life can enhance their experience of old age and selfconfidence. The ideas outlined above are a few of the many other recommendations that can aid in promoting independence of seniors with physical limitations.

Occupational Therapists have a unique professional skill base of holistic assessment and enhancement of an individual’s performance through relevant interventions, consistent with promoting the experience of active and successful ageing.

By Madeleine Tay, Principal Occupational Therapist
Department of Occupational Therapy, Tan Tock Seng Hospital

This article first appeared in the April - June 2014 issue of GP BUZZ, a publication by Tan Tock Seng Hospital.