Struggles of ageing caregivers

Struggles of ageing caregivers
Madam Atika Bibi Mohammad Ismail (in blue) takes care of her half-siblings Abdul Seram Mohammad Shariff and Alimah Mohammad Shariff and her mother Peer Mohamed Patamah Beebe. With her is her daughter Jamila Mustaffa, who visits once a week.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Many are unaware of the challenges of caring for elderly family members

In Singapore's ageing society, caring for an elderly loved one may become a reality for many people. But what happens when the caregivers themselves are getting older and more frail themselves?

Longer lives mean many people have to cope with the problems of ageing not just in their charges, but also in themselves.

Ageing caregivers have their own health concerns, such as chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes, and worry about their future medical needs, says

Ms Wang Jing, senior manager of counselling and coaching at Tsao Foundation's Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing.

They may also have little strength to help their charges in daily activities, such as transferring them from beds to wheelchairs. Caregivers may not be aware of the challenges they face.

Their responsibilities are 24/7, says Ms Wang. "They may not get enough rest as they need to be alert all the time, even during the night, if the care recipient needs the washroom or a cup of water."

Mr Kelvin Lim, chief of the social care division at the Agency for Integrated Care, says many caregivers see their duties as "a natural extension of their relationship", such as if they are the wife or the son.

"Sometimes they're not aware that their role is quite extensive as a nurse, personal assistant and someone who handles the finances. They tend to focus their energy on their loved one's well-being at the expense of themselves," he says, adding that one challenge is that caregivers can become isolated socially.

There are many caregivers who would rather not receive help, eldercare providers say.

"We have a certain level of resilience in our community," says

Mr Kelvin Lee, manager at Touch Caregivers Support.

"People generally want to provide care on their own, sometimes to the point of resisting help or thinking that the assistance can be given to others with more needs."

To lighten the load of caregivers, Touch has asked neighbours to help one another and provides training for the more complicated aspects of care, such as changing urine catheters and inserting feeding tubes.

When caregivers are properly trained, they are less stressed and more able to enjoy the presence of their wards.

After all, "the quality of care is directly related to the caregiver's health and well-being", Mr Lee says.

As of June this year, those aged 65 and older form 13.1 per cent of Singapore's citizen population, up from 12.4 per cent in the same period last year, says a report by the National Population and Talent Division recently.

A decade ago, the figure was 8.8 per cent.

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