Published on 19 Feb 2021
Imagine taking a stroll through Haw Par Villa and going on a bobsled ride through an icy tundra without leaving a room. Or playing a gripping match of tennis (with laundry towels and an inflatable ball) while seated.
NTUC Health made all the above possible with the introduction of the new Modified Sports activities and Immersive Room Experience at their day care centres. These activities are specially catered to seniors to help keep them safely occupied indoors, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The programme, which is being rolled out progressively in all 23 NTUC Health Day Centres for Seniors, aims to encourage friendship and foster the kampung spirit through shared and new experiences.
When it comes to immersive experiences, you could say the sky is the limit. To help engage seniors, NTUC Health collaborated with Mind Palace to pilot an immersive Virtual Reality (VR) experience that uses pre-recorded scenes to allow seniors to actively engage in activities.
“The room incorporates sights and sounds that trigger the various senses, promoting social interaction and engagement through reminiscence when seniors recognise iconic attractions, cultural and heritage sites.”
Yik Pei Lin
Senior Manager, Dementia Care, NTUC Health Senior Day Care
This interaction is especially beneficial for clients of the Day Centre for Seniors who live alone, are unable to leave home to explore Singapore due to pre-existing conditions, or have been asked to avoid going out due to the ongoing pandemic.
In one VR experience, seniors can watch Singapore’s transformation as a city over the years through a virtual reality video. Another experience enables them to jog on a “race track” à la participating in a marathon.
“The focus is on keeping our seniors engaged as they actively participate rather than just passively be a spectator. The thrill of a game also makes the session more enjoyable for our seniors,” Ms Yik added.
While the Immersive Room Experience is available only in the NTUC Health Day Centre for Seniors (Geylang East), Ms Yik said there are plans to replicate this in their 23 centres across the island in the future.
Apart from engaging the seniors mentally, NTUC Health also introduced Modified Sports, a slew of activities designed to help seniors exercise safely. The programme entails reworking aspects of different sports and games into low-impact activities to prevent any injuries. These activities will help seniors maintain muscle strength, improve their mood and enhance their cognitive function. They double up as a way to inject the element of fun, exercise and competitiveness for seniors while taking into account their physical abilities.
Ms Yik said, “We realised from our conversations with our seniors that some of them were not able to enjoy the sports they used to do because of old age and the physical demands of those sports. They even commented that they would like to continue to participate in sporting activities if they were able to.”
She added, “As such, we decided to modify some familiar sports to cater to the abilities of our seniors, improving their quality of life and allowing them to stay active even in their golden years.”
Currently, about a third of the centres have introduced Modified Sports activities, including a simple and very safe form of boxing, seated table tennis and modified tennis with towels.
The Immersive Room Experience and Modified Sports activities were launched after the Circuit Breaker last year, but they weren’t developed overnight. It took six months of planning and trial runs before the programmes were ready for implementation.
Before launching Modified Sports, NTUC Health collected research and feedback through various group discussions with the 30 seniors who participated in the trial. The feedback included rating mood levels, energy levels and other questions like whether the seniors would participate in the games again. The staff noted that all 30 clients expressed positive feedback.
Similarly, for the Immersive Room Experience, the staff in charge of the project did a quantitative and qualitative study with 40 seniors, and noted that they showed positive feedback and demonstrated higher levels of interest and attentiveness using the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS-SF).
While very positively received by seniors, the programme was not without its trials and tribulations. COVID-19, Singapore’s Circuit Breaker and recovery phases forced NTUC Health to be stuck in the planning stage. They had to work around ongoing restrictions to renovate and install equipment. After the Circuit Breaker was lifted, trainers and staff were challenged to ensure that there were proper training and guidelines for the programme to run within the social distancing guidelines.
Although there was some apprehension among the seniors initially, they soon opened up and commented that the activities were fun and that they looked forward to participating in them every day. Seniors also remarked that it was a good way to discover new places and reminisce about old places.
The NTUC Health staff who facilitated the activities also observed that seniors who seldom participate in other activities were happy to try out these new activities. They also saw an improvement in social interaction among the seniors as they would cheer one another on or chat about their life experiences.
Mis Yik recalled, “A senior with moderate dementia, who was usually easily irritable and agitated around the centre, became calmer after experiencing the immersive room with scenes from olden-day kampungs. He also started sharing about some of his life experiences while living in a kampung!”
Other seniors who participated in the activities also had good reviews about the programme.
“Since I have had a stroke, I am not able to stand up for a long time. Luckily, the game can be played while seated down.”
Mr Chia Tea Cheang, 80 years
“When I was young, I played many sports, but now, not the same anymore. I feel good to be able to run a marathon.”
Mr Teo Tee Seng, 79
While the timing of these activities coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms Yik clarified that the introduction of these new programmes are part of NTUC Health’s ongoing effort to develop new programmes and activities to improve seniors’ physical and emotional well-being, and stimulate them mentally.
“In the near future, we also plan to introduce a hybrid home programme with virtual activities to allow even more seniors who are not our current clients, or seniors who are not able to attend our day care programme, to continue interacting with our care staff from their homes. These activities can include art and craft, cooking demonstrations, word puzzles and guessing games as well as live chat sessions where tips about gardening, for example, could be shared.”
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