New scheme offers relief for caregivers

PHOTO: New scheme offers relief for caregivers

SINGAPORE - Caregivers can now take a breather from looking after their family members or relatives round the clock.

The Health Ministry's Agency for Integrated Care announced on Wednesday that it has started testing a scheme at seven nursing homes where patients can take a short stay of between seven and 30 days. Eligible patients who pass the ministry's means-testing can also receive subsidies for their stay under the Nursing Home Respite Care initiative.

The new scheme was shared on the sidelines of Tsao Foundation's Caregiving Conference, which discussed the problems faced by caregivers here.

According to the findings of a survey unveiled at the conference, some 15 per cent to 20 per cent of caregivers exhibited symptoms of depression.

Those who have to juggle full-time jobs and the caring of their relatives, are of a younger age, have lower socio-economic status and lack a maid, were the most at risk of suffering stress and depression, reported the survey, which was done between 2009 and 2010.

The survey, which polled 1,190 pairs of elderly persons and their caregivers, also found that nearly half of the respondents turn to maids to help them take care of their frail family members or relatives. Yet more than half of these maids lack the experience or training needed.

Having a maid, however, did not reduce stress, even though it does reduce the symptoms of depression. This is because caregivers often feel guilty or worried about getting a domestic worker to care for their loved ones.

And a third of those receiving care had problems communicating with their maid.

The survey, commissioned by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, is the most extensive so far. Previous research was on too small a scale to be representative.

The study's main researcher, Associate Professor at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Angelique Chan, believes the findings will be useful in crafting policies to help caregivers.

For one thing, she said, there needs to be mandatory training for maids who take care of the elderly, to equip them with the proper skills.

There is no such requirement currently.

Only caregivers who apply for the monthly Foreign Domestic Worker grant of $120 to help defray the costs of hiring a maid, need to send their workers for training. Over the last 12 months ending March, 3,000 families had received the Foreign Domestic Worker grant.

Dr Chan has also stressed the need to find out why more than 95 per cent of caregivers fail to make use of services that are already available, such as day-care and rehabilitation services offered by Voluntary Welfare Organisations.

It is important to understand this because the number of caregivers who lack the support of a family unit is expected to increase. The survey found that a quarter of caregivers, who are mainly female, are not married.

"This is of great concern because as our marriage rates drop and divorce rates go up, there will be more singles. And who is going to take care of them when they get old?" said Dr Chan.

Ms Stella Ang, who is not married, said she is too focused on caring for her mother, who has suffered from multiple strokes, to worry about herself.

Said the 59-year-old part-time customer service assistant: "It is so stressful and I find myself stretched to the maximum. But my love for my mother gives me the strength to go on."

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