Singapore caregivers can now sleep easy, thanks to new service

SINGAPORE - In the middle of the night, Mr Kenny Wee was woken up by his elderly mother knocking on his door, calling for her grandmother.

To Ms Pearly Chia, 86, Mr Wee is her grandmother - and this was happening every night for years.

"I've taken care of her for the past 12 years since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's (disease)," said Mr Wee, 64.

His mother suffers from sundowning syndrome, which is a side effect of Alzheimer's disease - patients with the condition become confused and agitated, which causes them to have restless sleep. "She doesn't know if it is night or day," he said.

But after sending his mother to attend the Dusk to Dawn service at St Joseph's Home, Mr Wee has less to worry about her and he can finally sleep peacefully.

Held on weekdays from 7pm to 8am at St Joseph's Home in partnership with the Lien Foundation, the service, which began in May, supports caregivers who care for their loved ones with dementia.

Two full-time staff who are trained in therapy work at the centre every night, taking care of up to eight patients. They oversee the patients who may play games, watch television or do physiotherapy exercises at night.

"She gets what she wants - companionship and security," said Mr Wee, who drives his mother from their two-storey house in Bukit Timah to St Joseph's Home in Jurong Road each night. "We finally are able to sleep at night."

The service is timely given the rising number of people with dementia here. Data from the Alzheimer's Disease Association in Singapore cites 28,000 people above the age of 65 living with the condition, with the number estimated to rise to 53,000 in 2020.

Mr Lee Poh Wah, chief executive of Lien Foundation, said: "Uprooting the elderly into institutions could be traumatic for them (dementia patients), and this often undermines their independence and health."

Therefore, there was a need for a specialised service, he added.

Sister Geraldine Tan of St Joseph's Home conceived the idea for the service, which is supported by a three-year grant given by Lien Foundation. "They do what they need to do - have a hot drink, read the papers. Then they ask to go back to bed. That's when they really sleep, because it's their choice," she said.

Ms May Wong, programme director of Dusk to Dawn, said the service also helps ease the burden of caregivers who are at risk of burnout. But to make sure the service can help them, she interviews the caregivers to assess the needs of their loved ones.

"Through the interviews, they realise that they can tap other services, or maybe they want to hold out a little bit more," she said. St Joseph's Home hopes its service can be a model for eldercare support at nursing homes here.

"For the night care service, it would be good if it is part of the nursing home system. That's my vision," said Sister Geraldine.

rmytan@sph.com.sg


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