No space for new clients, no spot on waiting list

No space for new clients, no spot on waiting list

AM and time for a morning walk: Seniors at Yong-En Care Centre in Chinatown take their daily stroll.

It's not just MRT trains and preschools that are full.

Singaporeans are fighting for space at eldercare facilities too.

Operators of dementia day-care centres say demand exceeds supply - and the situation will likely worsen as our population ages.

The space crunch is forcing some centres, like Yong-En Care Centre in Chinatown, to say no to new clients.

What about a spot on the waiting list?

Sorry, no space there either.

Yong-En Care Centre's executive director William Chua said: "Currently, we have 35 clients at the centre and there's no place left, not even for referrals.

"The waiting list for another 35 places is also full."

The story is the same at other dementia centres The New Paper spoke to.

Yong-En Care Centre started in 2002 with six clients. Besides caring for the elderly who suffer from dementia, the centre also reaches out to needy families, gambling addicts and the infirm.

It relies solely on private donations to meet its yearly S$1.6 million operating tab.

Rising demand for dementia care has forced Mr Chua to consider expanding. He expects to make a decision next year.

Dementia is a mental disorder where brain cells die at a faster rate than normal - it robs people of their memory and capacity to function. As a person ages, the risk of getting dementia increases.

By 2030, the number of dementia patients aged 60 and above here is projected to hit 80,000. This is close to thrice the current figure of 28,000.

While he would like to open a new wing, Mr Chua is worried about the manpower crunch.

"I can't take in more clients unless I can hire more staff to look after them," he said.

And it's a challenge finding qualified staff who can converse in several languages, including the Cantonese dialect.

Caring for dementia sufferers also goes beyond providing simple elder care.

Said Mr Chua: "They must interact with others through activities, or else their condition will deteriorate even faster."

Some of the activities organised include slow dancing, solving jigsaw puzzles, bingo and stretching exercises.

The elderly arrive at the centre from 8am onwards and leave by 5pm daily.

But not everyone who is eligible to attend the centre does so willingly.

Some like Madam Abby, 83, thought that her children had abandoned her. Upset, she initially refused to visit the centre. (See report below)

Others, like Briton Pauline Heymer, 84, had to adapt to a completely different culture.

She moved to Singapore in 2006. Her project manager daughter Jane Heymer, 61, settled here in 1990.

When asked if she had problems communicating with her Cantonese-speaking peers, the chirpy Mrs Heymer said: "I speak English. They speak a bit of English too. Otherwise, I have a pair of hands (to make myself understood)."

Worried at first

Added her daughter: "I was initially worried about the language barrier, but the staff speak English and some of mom's friends (at the centre) speak a bit of English too.

"Now, she loves it very much - she's probably the first to arrive and last to leave every day!" But it's not just the elderly who have to adapt. Madam Abby's son, Mr Leslie Lung, 48, felt lost when his mother was first diagnosed with the condition.

"I knew nothing about dementia and had to research everything, from the care required to the places to go to," he added.

"It'll be good to generate more awareness, so people know what this is and what to do."

With the silver tsunami taking hold, Dr Lam Pin Min, the Government Parliamentary Committee chairman for Health, said: "The demand for eldercare facilities is on the rise and this situation will only get worse as the population ages.

"The public needs to be educated on various facilities available for senior citizens and how the needs of the elderly can be properly matched to the services provided."

There are 11 dementia day-care centres run by voluntary welfare organisations, nine of which receive subsidies from the Ministry of Health.

The Agency of Integrated Care (AIC), which is under the Ministry of Health, routes subsidised referrals to these centres.

Its spokesman told TNP: "Placement can take, on average, two months or more from the point of referral. This varies from one service provider to another.

"At present, many centres are operating at or near full capacity."

To ease the crunch, St Luke's Eldercare is adding a 12th centre in Tampines. It is likely to be up and running by year-end.

Said a St Luke's spokesman: "Generally, centres in the eastern part of Singapore are more crowded and have a longer waiting list."

About 30 per cent of those at its centres suffer from dementia.

Both St Luke's and Yong-En Care Centre charge about S$600 monthly, excluding subsidies and transport.

The Salvation Army's Bedok Multiservice Centre charges S$9 to S$32 daily, depending on means testing or income evaluation. It has about 30 clients, including dementia patients.

The AIC spokesman said Singaporeans eligible for subsidies typically pay around S$10 to S$35 daily. Those facing financial difficulties can seek assistance or tap on MediFund.

For information about available assistance schemes, visit http://www.aic.sg/page.aspx?id=2147484032

kohht@sph.com.sg

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