108, alone, but with a lifeline to safety

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 April, 2006, 12:00am

Lam Po-sin carries an emergency device around her neck to call for help if she ever falls ill. But she has never had to use it, even though she is 108 years old.

'I am very healthy', said Ms Lam, who lives alone and cooks for herself. 'I just press the triggering button once in a while to alert the staff and let them know I am all right.'

The sprightly centenarian received an award yesterday as the oldest user of the service provided by Personal Emergency Link, which has staff on hand round the clock to answer calls and provide assistance or counselling. After 10 years of operation, the service has 78,900 members.

Ms Lam, who so far has not needed treatment, said she was not worried about her safety because of the emergency link.

She was speaking at a ceremony held to mark the service's 10th anniversary.

Although she is the oldest user, she did not join the service until 2002, when she was already well over 100.

Ms Lam has no family and lives in a public housing flat in Tsui Ping Estate, Kwun Tong. Every day she makes the trip to the elderly centre near her home to join in activities.

About half of the people signed up to the service are, like Ms Lam, elderly people living alone. But that figure represents about a fraction of the total number of elderly living alone, according to Timothy Ma Kam-wah, executive director of the Senior Citizen Home Safety Association, which runs the service.

'The figure shows that many of the elderly who need the service are not using it. It means we still need to get more of these elderly into our 'safety net',' said association chairman Law Chi-Kwong.

Experience since the service's founding in 1996 has shown that spring, with its unsettled weather, is the peak time for emergencies among old people - with an average 67.5 calls a day compared with an overall average of 58.6. A 15 per cent increase is also noted when the temperature is over 30 or under 10. Mr Ma said dramatic changes in weather had always had a health impact on the elderly.

'Many of these elderly suffer from asthma and are short of breathe easily. They usually have a tough time in adapting to the change in humidity and temperature,' he said.