Beyond just medical services – how Bagan Specialist Hospital engages the ageing community to bring joy

The hospital’s Joyclub reaches out to support and bring seniors together in a bid to help mitigate the sense of isolation and loneliness they may feel during the pandemic

Bagan Specialist Hospital (BSC), AHMA 2020 Excellence award winner of the Community Involvement category, is proof that hospitals can be more than just a facility providing medical services.

After all, for the past three years, BSC has run a community-based seniors club cheerily named “Just Older Youth Club” – or Joyclub for short – in Butterworth, Penang, where the hospital is located.

The club was established as a platform to reach out to the growing elderly population in Penang – the proportion of people over 60s in the state is expected to rise from the current 14.9% to 26.2% by 2040 – and help them create community connections, while also serving as a support system.

Activities ranging from art classes, to talks and workshops on life-long learning, graceful ageing and dementia, as well as social outings are regularly organised for the elderly. And BSC’s efforts have paid off – over the past three years, Joyclub has grown from just 238 members in its initial stages, to having approximately 4,206 members as of June 2021.

Reaching out in these difficult times

Cecilia Chan
Dr Cecilia Chan

However, the pandemic meant that Joyclub’s physical activities had to come to a halt. ”It was initially quite a challenge to reach out to the members and aging community through digital means, as the majority of the elderly find it difficult to understand online tools such as Zoom,” said Dr Cecilia Chan, the Elder Care Service Coordinator of BSC Joyclub.

However, she noted that as most of the members were still keen to participate in Joyclub’s activities, they took the effort to learn how to use these online tools. This has allowed BSC Joyclub to forge on with creating informative and supportive online programmes up till now. This sense of community was particularly important during the pandemic, which had left many seniors feeling a sense of loneliness and isolation.

A Zoom session for members

It was with this in mind that BSC Joyclub launched the “Jom Sembang”, or “Let’s Chat”, online platform in March this. A collaborative effort with various non-governmental organisations for senior citizens throughout East Malaysia (from Kedah, Penang, Perak, Kuala Lumpur, and Malacca), the platform allows members to connect, network, and share resources and stories about how they are navigating their lives positively during this challenging pandemic period, under the theme of “Ageing Well during the Pandemic”.

“Social interaction is essential for senior citizens as it keeps their minds active, mentally engaged, stimulated, and intellectually aware of their lifestyle and surroundings,” said Dr Chan.

“This was an opportunity for BSC Joyclub members to meet and interact with senior citizens from other states. Moreover, this platform also acts as a support system for the senior citizens to encourage each other in adapting to changes and overcoming the challenges of a ‘new normal’ lifestyle.”

New endeavours

Not content to rest on its laurels, BSC Joyclub constantly introduces new programmes that benefit the seniors’ physical and mental well-being. One of its latest endeavours is the introduction of online Garden Therapy classes.

Gardening and getting close to nature has been proven to be beneficial for the physiological well-being of the elderly. It also helps to regulate blood pressure, and improves their critical sensory awareness and maintaining motor skills. Psychologically, gardening helps reduce stress, enhances one’s mood, improves mental clarity, and increases the levels of dopamine, the happy hormone. Mr. Simon Lam, a passionate gardener who has been working with the Perak Dementia Society, was invited to share with the seniors the importance of gardening and how it is related to senses. He noted that gardening was a therapeutic activity, and also provided creative gardening tips.

Activities such as Jom Sembang and Garden Therapy help senior citizens cope and adapt to a ‘new normal’ lifestyle amidst the pandemic. BSC Joyclub ensures that the ageing community is not left behind, as it continues to innovate its offerings, be it activities, workshops, and events for the seniors. The golden years can be marked with new connections and fond memories, just like at any stage of life. As Dr Chan quipped: “Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”

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