Care options to help seniors age at home

Staff from Touch Community Services helping Madam Chen, 92, with the housekeeping in her flat. Touch staff have regularly visited her since 2006. The Government is placing increasing emphasis on home-based care efforts in order to ease the demand on
Staff from Touch Community Services helping Madam Chen, 92, with the housekeeping in her flat. Touch staff have regularly visited her since 2006. The Government is placing increasing emphasis on home-based care efforts in order to ease the demand on nursing homes and hospitals, which is expected to rise as Singapore's population continues to age.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Govt stepping up efforts; 10,000 home care and 6,200 centre-based daycare spots by 2020

In March 2014, Madam Chen Yoke Lan took her first shower in almost a decade with the help of a home care aide from non-profit organisation Touch Community Services.

It was a milestone for Touch staff who had, since 2006, kept an eye on the wheelchair user who lived alone and cleaned herself with a sponge, but resisted their repeated offers to help her bathe.

However, after they built a rapport with Madam Chen, now 92, and renovated her toilet in 2014 so that her wheelchair could fit, she agreed to let them help her shower.

"Not bathing was uncomfortable but I had no choice for many years. But now I have help, and I'm used to it - I'm not so worried," she said in Mandarin.

Today, aides come by the widow's flat twice a week to help her groom herself. She has two stepsons from her husband's previous marriage, but is in contact with only one of them.

It is part of a suite of government-subsidised services to help her age in place, that includes weekly house cleaning, daily meal deliveries and transport escort services when needed. These services are targeted at seniors who live alone or have little caregiving support. But they also complement the work of existing caregivers.

Madam Chen, who qualifies for 80 per cent of government subsidies after means-testing and receives further subsidies from Touch, pays $13 a month for housekeeping and personal hygiene services, and 60 cents a meal.

The Government has been stepping up home-based care efforts to ease the demand on hospitals and nursing homes, which is projected to rise as the population ages. Studies also show that seniors prefer to stay put in their own homes.

The Health Ministry announced earlier this year that the existing 6,900 home care and 3,500 centre-based daycare spaces would be expanded to 10,000 home care and 6,200 daycare spots by 2020.

Observers say this could change mindsets in a rapidly-ageing society accustomed to outsourcing care to foreign domestic helpers.

Ms Karen Lee, whose Home Nursing Foundation works with public hospitals to ensure a smooth transition for discharged patients, expects demand for home care to rise.

She also wants people to understand how care for an ageing person evolves.

"Today he may need some help to get to a seniors' activity centre, but two years later he might be wheelchair-bound, so he can do home therapy. Ageing can be a 20- to 30-year journey, " she said.

Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) deputy chief executive Wong Kirk Chuan said manpower is a challenge but the agency, set up by the Government in 2009 to coordinate eldercare services, is helping providers with recruitment drives and encouraging volunteers to step forward.

"AIC hopes to shift the public's mindset to consider home- and community-based care as viable care options for their loved ones," he said.

Such services have helped those like Madam Chen. She said: "Sometimes a volunteer takes me to the seniors' activity centre, where I can talk to people, read newspapers and exercise. I'm very happy now."

•Additional reporting by Linette Lai

•For more information on home care, call the Singapore Silver Line on 1800-650-6060, check www.silverpages.sg, or call Touch Care Line on 6804-6555.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2016, with the headline 'Care options to help seniors age at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe