Caregivers, professionals welcome additional support for those looking after their loved ones

Caregivers, professionals welcome additional support for those looking after their loved ones

Ms Janet Koh and her mother
Ms Janet Koh Hui Kheng takes care of her mother Madam Ng Sook Cheng full-time, and looks forward to the additional support for caregivers like herself. (Photo: Jalelah Abu Baker)

SINGAPORE: Getting a night of uninterrupted sleep is a luxury for Ms Janet Koh Hui Kheng, who takes care of her 85-year-old bedridden mother full-time.

"Ah Mui", her mother Madam Ng Sook Cheng would call her affectionately, and Ms Koh would be at the older woman's bedside in a flash, ready to tend to her at all hours of the day - and night. 

Whenever Madam Ng cries for her own mother in the middle of the night, Ms Koh would get up and stroke her hair patiently in order to comfort her.

Madam Ng's behaviour is not atypical, as she has dementia. She is also paralysed on the right side of her body, and is dependent on Ms Koh for her daily activities. 

Ms Koh, 63, has been taking care of her mother for the past eight years since Madam Ng suffered her first stroke in 2010.

Her mother had requested that Ms Koh take care of her, as she did not want to be looked after by a helper or be put in a nursing home. Upon her request, Ms Koh quit her job as a secretary.

 In 2014, Madam Ng was diagnosed with dementia, and three years later, she suffered a second stroke that left her partially paralysed. 

RELIEF THROUGH RESPITE CARE OPTIONS

While Ms Koh's cheerful and energetic demeanour belie the heavy responsibilities she carries, she yearns for a good night's sleep. So it is with excitement that Ms Koh read about a suite of additional support the Government will be providing caregivers.

Under the Caregiver Action Support Plan announced in Parliament recently by the Ministry of Health, there will be more caregiver respite options. 

The Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) will pilot a new night respite service with selected nursing home providers from the second half of 2019.

"Sometimes once I get to sleep only, I have to get up again. I do not know how I've managed to survive all these years. I need this," she said, in anticipation of respite during the night. 

While sleeping through the night gives her something to look forward to, what will help her most is the S$200 Home Caregiving Grant, she said. 

The grant will be introduced at the end of this year, replacing the Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW) grant. Unlike its predecessor, it can be used flexibly. As she does not have a maid and was not able to tap on the FDW grant, Ms Koh is glad for the extra money. 

EXTRA MONEY WILL HELP EASE FINANCIAL BURDEN

Ms Koh, who has wiped out her personal savings, said the grant will come in handy as she is surviving on money from her siblings and Government handouts. 

"That is very useful, helps to release and reduce the stress. Finance issues are always hovering over my head," she said at her home in Toa Payoh. 

She currently gets by on about S$650 per month. 

The extra money from the grant is likely to go towards groceries or adult diapers, she said, but it can also be used to engage staff from professional caregiving companies. 

Such companies are able to provide trained nurses, or if medical know-how is not needed, companions and individuals to escort care recipients from one place to another.

PLANS GIVE FAMILIES OPTIONS, INCREASE AWARENESS

Those from the professional caregiving industry welcomed the action plan as well. 

Founder of Active Global Caregivers Yorelle Kalika said the amount would provide "significant help" to families who are already receiving subsidised services.

Giving an example of her firm's home personal care services, she said clients eligible for 80 per cent subsidies typically pay about S$155 for 48 hours of home care per month.

Ms Kalika also said that by giving families the choice to allocate the grant based on their individual needs, it will encourage families to get care sooner in the patient's journey. 

READ: Government looking at grants for caregivers to the elderly to boost support for community care

"For instance, patients and families would be able to start with day-care services when the care needs are still low to medium," she said. 

CEO of Caregiver Asia Yeo Wan Ling similarly lauded the flexibility of the grant.

"It puts the decisions back in family's hands," she said, explaining that the FDW grant was narrowly focused. 

CEO of Homage Gillian Tee also said that she believes the grant will help catalyse the exploration and consideration of the different types of long-term care services required, including respite care, so primary caregivers can take some time out for self-care.

"I personally am excited at the impact of that, where we can help caregivers prevent burn out and better sustain themselves as they support their loved ones," she said. 

Ms Koh hoisting her mother onto the bed with a machine
Ms Koh hoisting her mother onto the bed with a machine. (Photo: Jalelah Abu Baker)

Ms Yeo said that the Government's focus has helped to get people to talk and learn more about ageing. 

"All along, there has not been a lot discourse about two things, home care and respite care. Even though everybody is talking about aged care, not many know alternatives. There's also a lack of awareness on respite care," she said. 

Ms Kalika said that there is still some way to go in helping family members understand that it is perfectly fine to engage professional help without feeling guilty.

While Ms Koh said she was initially resentful that she had to quit her job to take care of her mother, she is also grateful to be given that opportunity to spend time with her.

Little things keep her going, like when her mother smiles. Ms Koh said she was especially touched when her mother - who was very critically ill after her second stroke in 2017 - thanked her for her help.

"Dementia can rub off your loved one’s memory, but your love resides in their heart and soul. Cherish the moments you can connect," she said. 

Source: CNA/ja(aj)

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