Bridging the Gap Between Seniors and Sports

As the old saying goes, friends who play together, stay together. At MWS, one staff has introduced adaptive sports to allow seniors of differing abilities to play and bond together. Brendon Yam tells us more.

Andy*, a resident at MWS Christalite Methodist Home (CMH), who is in the last stages of life, had been in low spirits, feeling bored and aimless.

But his days brightened and spirits lifted with the introduction of adaptive sports at the Home. Now, he has something to look forward to every day – playing balloon badminton and other sports with his peers.

The man behind the initiative is Brendon Yam. As a programme development manager at MWS since Jan 2022, he develops and oversees the implementation of adaptive sports activities for seniors at MWS CMH and MWS Senior Activity Centres (SACs). These activities are aligned with the MWS Allied Health team’s mission to maximise rehabilitation potential and optimise quality of life for our elderly beneficiaries through integrated and holistic programmes.

Making Sports Accessible to All Seniors

Engaging seniors and helping them grow in various areas of wellness through adaptive sports brings me great joy. Seeing their smiles when they overcome the challenges in the activities is what motivates me to keep going.

Adaptive sports are sports that have been modified to enable people of differing physical abilities to participate. In the case of MWS, the activities cater to seniors who are fit, pre-frail and frail including those wheelchair-bound.

“We promote adaptive sports because they are inclusive. Unlike typical sports, they allow seniors of different levels of fitness and frailty to play together,” said Brendon.

Currently, 6 different types of adaptive sports are played in MWS, including archery, darts and badminton.

In the case of badminton, slower-descending balloons replace shuttlecocks, giving seniors more time to react, explained Brendon. For basketball, he created a ‘hoop’ by arranging a cluster of chairs in a wide circle, making it easier for seniors to score.

Currently, Brendon is developing a new line-up of adaptive sports. This includes the self-invented Walking Captain’s Ball. Unlike the original, players walk instead of run and have to maintain a 1m distance from other players, to prevent falls.

Other sports in the pipeline include cheerleading and walking soccer.

“Our aim is to remove barriers to sports participation for seniors. Being able to achieve goals like hitting the winning shot during a basketball game, especially for the frail seniors, improve their self-esteem and mood,” shared Brendon.

A 3-month survey conducted by Brendon and his team found that seniors who participated regularly in adaptive sports activities ran by MWS showed increased socialisation among their peers, and improved mood and energy.

Weekly, some 120 MWS beneficiaries are engaged in adaptive sports activities.

“In the course of my work, I learnt that many seniors used to play sports in their younger days. But they stopped due to work and family commitments,” said Brendon.

“Now that these seniors are retired with more time on their hands, adaptive sports are a great way for them to stay active and healthy, and make new friends.”

Finding Joy in Helping Seniors Thrive

The 50-year-old started his journey with MWS as a volunteer in Apr 2021, introducing adaptive sports to seniors.

He became a full-time staff 5 months later. “I have always been interested in engaging seniors directly at the ground level. My past work experiences in policy and planning work did not allow for that,” shared Brendon, referring to his senior management stints at a non-profit and an aged care agency.

“Engaging seniors and helping them grow in various areas of wellness through adaptive sports brings me great joy. Seeing their smiles when they overcome the challenges in the activities is what motivates me to keep going.”

* Not his real name

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