Exercise as medicine
Lien Foundation equips eldercare facilities with gym equipment.
Over 2,000 seniors in Singapore will benefit as Lien Foundation’s project ‘Gym Tonic’ rolls out to six nursing homes and six eldercare centres. The S$2.2 million initiative targets seniors who are frail, prone to falls and are idle.
It promotes the concept of Exercise-as-Medicine (EAM) through strength training using pneumatic gym equipment, complemented by targeted, measurable and trackable assessments done regularly to improve the seniors’ well-being and functional abilities. The tracking protocol is through a partnership with Finnish university Kokkola University.
Physiotherapists will then develop individual training plans for these seniors. All this will allow them to remain active, and to restore, improve, maintain and delay their functional decline in normal ageing or in the event of acute events such as falls and strokes.
Gym Tonic has an automated IT system using RFID technology which will allow the seniors’ progress to be easily tracked and assessed by the physiotherapists and the nursing care team. The equipment will automatically adjust itself to fit the seniors, based on a previous setting, upon identification.
The initiative has already helped seniors like 75-year-old retired teacher Jennifer Ng, a resident of The Salvation Army Peacehaven Nursing Home. She used to worry about her blood pressure but since starting on Gym Tonic, her blood pressure has stabilised and she now feels more stable and less likely to fall while walking and standing.
Another senior, Tan Kan Boo, 65, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, had trouble getting along with fellow residents at The Salvation Army Peacehaven Nursing Home. However, after starting on Gym Tonic, he has become more sociable and argues less often with the residents. He has also gained 1kg of muscle mass on his lower legs in just 12 weeks and looks forward to the exercise sessions.
Shared Lee Poh Wah, CEO of Lien Foundation, “As we age, we lose muscle strength, bone density and flexibility. Many frail elderly in Singapore, especially those with chronic illnesses or physical limitations, are unfamiliar and underexposed to strength training, because of the fear of injury and pain. The exercises they do are thus overly gentle and cautious, and are inadequate to build strength. Frail elderly, particularly the very old, need exercises that are purposeful and personalised.
“Gym Tonic is a state-of-the-art gym system that delivers strengthening exercises to help frail elderly enhance their functional capacity, mobility, well-being, and quality of life. Such exercises help to reduce the risk of falls and injuries, and counteract the adverse effects of chronic conditions like heart diseases, diabetes and strokes. Feeling physically stronger also improves one’s mental and emotional health. Strength training is a potent tonic that is currently under-prescribed and under-consumed. Singapore needs to embrace it to reduce the cost and burden on our eldercare system.”
Pilot has positive results
A pilot of Gym Tonic was done from end November 2013 to February 2014 at The Salvation Army Peacehaven Nursing Home with 15 residents, who did the exercises on the machines and 11 residents, who did their usual exercise regime of walking. All of the residents had mild to moderate dementia.
The results showed that those who did the machine exercises displayed a reduction in mood symptoms, increase in muscle strength, reduced blood pressure, and improved cognitive functionality and sociability.
Said Low Mui Lang, executive director of The Salvation Army Peacehaven Nursing Home, “Gym Tonic has blown my mind. I still remember the day my resident threw away his walking stick and started walking. At a broader level, caring for elderly who are at risk of falling is costly and taxing for nursing homes. I’m now turning my focus to prevention through Gym Tonic.” The positive results from the pilot has encouraged Low to introduce the initiative to an additional 50 transitional care residents at Peacehaven’s Grace Corner and more than 50 residents at Peacehaven Nursing Home.
Gym Tonic will be available at 12 eldercare facilities from nursing homes, community hospitals, to community rehab and care centres. They include: The Salvation Army Peacehaven Nursing Home, St Andrew’s Nursing Home, St Joseph’s Home, Apex Harmony Lodge, Man Fut Tong Nursing Home, Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital, Peacehaven Bedok Multi-Service Centre, AWWA Health and Senior Care, St Luke’s Community Hospital, St Luke’s Elderly Care and NTUC Health.
Each facility will have a range of six pneumatic gym equipment and three measurement machines installed in their own Gym Tonic exercise area at the end of this year. Two representatives from each of the voluntary welfare organisations will be trained at Kokkola University and will learn the EAM concept, and how to perform assessments and measurements as well as interpret the exercise data.