SINGAPORE: Resources will be expanded to support caregivers, as Singapore hurtles towards an ageing population, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor on Saturday (Feb 3).
These include increasing the capacity of day care and home care spaces from 5,000 and 8,000, to 6,200 and 10,000 in 2020.
This would ease the workload of caregivers, from a few hours up to a month – especially if they have career commitments.
"For those who care for their loved ones at home, at times you need to take a break and you need to access respite care services. These services are available at selected day care centres and nursing homes and to date, over 1,600 people have tapped on them,” said Dr Khor.
She added that so far, more than 1,200 seniors have been supported through these arrangements and usage of these respite services has increased by at least 50 per cent between 2015 and 2017.
Apart from respite care services, the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) and the National Council for Social Service (NCSS) have developed caregiver support groups to allow caregivers to share their experiences with each other.
Dr Khor was speaking at the inaugural Caregiver Symposium at the Lifelong Learning Institute. Organised by the AIC and NCSS to drive home the message of the importance of psychological wellness for caregivers, the symposium was attended by about 800 caregivers and professionals.
AIC and NCSS said in a press release that those who urgently need to hire foreign domestic workers (FDWs) with caregiving skills now have more than 40 employment agencies to choose from, up from eight in 2016.
These agencies send their FDWs for eldercare training courses under the Eldercarer FDW Scheme where they undergo comprehensive lessons.
Centre for Seniors senior trainer Lo Chue Har said the training covers care for recipients who are still mobile as well as those who are bed-bound.
“These could include topics such as developing conversational skills and observational skills. We teach them to pick up warning signs for emergencies, some hands-on practical skills like transferring, feeding, even to tube-feeding,” she said.
There are more than 240 caregiver training courses available here and caregivers can tap on the Caregivers Training Grant to offset costs.
About 8,000 caregivers, both FDWs and family members sign up for it annually.
But Ms Lo told Channel NewsAsia that while more caregivers are seeking help, some families still find it hard to accept that their loved ones may require assistance in the future.
“Because of this, they don’t find it necessary to undergo training.”
Since his elder brother Tan Tiaw Keng was diagnosed with schizophrenia more than 30 years ago, 55-year-old Elvin Tan became his main caregiver.
While other siblings do help out, dealing with mental illness isn't easy, and Mr Tan often doubted his ability to offer support, he said.
Some days, the elder Mr Tan would also wake him up in the middle of the night complaining of voices in his head.
"I tried to do my best, but no matter what I do, I feel that it's not enough to meet his needs. No matter how I try to please him, I find that he's not responding. At times I feel very frustrated when he doesn't want to listen."
When things get too overwhelming, he would snap in frustration.
Recognising the need to seek help, Mr Tan enrolled for a home-based caregiver course, where he got to know his brother’s condition better.
"I learnt about what he needed and how we should help him. I also picked up skills like how to make him comfortable,” he said.
A medical social worker at the Institute of Mental Health also referred the elder Mr Tan to All Saints Home day care centre in Tampines where he gets to interact and take part in community activities along with other beneficiaries.
This has somewhat eased Mr Tan’s responsibilities and he now gets to focus on his work without worrying about his brother.
He acknowledged that many caregivers eventually neglect their mental health in the process of caregiving.
“Sometimes you do feel tired, anxious, helpless and angry. This is a mix of feelings that people like us encounter.
“But as a caregiver, if you're not going to resolve all these internally, how can you provide good support to your loved ones?
“Now I also understand how to manage my frustrations, because caregiving is about giving care recipients comfort, and meeting their needs, not our expectations,” he said.