Singapore lacks after-hours care for the elderly: Gan

Mr Matsunage Masatake telling Health Minister Gan Kim Yong of his daily exercise regime at the day rehabilitation centre following his fall and fractured hip. There are gaps in Singapore's eldercare services that need to be plugged if more old people
Mr Matsunage Masatake telling Health Minister Gan Kim Yong of his daily exercise regime at the day rehabilitation centre following his fall and fractured hip. There are gaps in Singapore's eldercare services that need to be plugged if more old people are to continue living at home after they become frail. -- ST FILE PHOTO: SALMA KHALIK

Minister has set up committee to find ways to provide home-care support

There are gaps in Singapore's eldercare services that need to be plugged if more old people are to continue living at home after they become frail.

One of them is the need for after-hours care, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

Today, support services for the elderly, such as day and rehabilitation care, are largely available only during office hours. These services need to be extended to accommodate elderly people with family members returning home late or those living alone who might need help at night.

Another is having medical care, such as a general practitioner clinic or polyclinic, located near apartments for the elderly - something Singapore can include in its development plans, said Mr Gan.

The minister was sharing with the media some ideas from his four-day study trip to Japan earlier this month that can be applied to Singapore.

He revealed that he set up a Homecare Working Committee comprising professionals in the field and service providers in April this year. The committee will draw up a masterplan on how to develop the services needed to help the elderly age in the community, and how to find and train the manpower needed.

During the trip, Mr Gan, who was accompanied by officials from the Ministry of Health, Agency for Integrated Care and the Housing Board, visited 20 eldercare providers, including hospitals, nursing homes and day rehabilitation centres in and around Tokyo.

They also visited the burgeoning "Smart City" complex, where elderly people live in rented flats. These flats and the surrounding area are being redeveloped to give them better care, social support and even work opportunities.

Seeing how Japan is coping with the needs of its ageing population reaffirms that Singapore is heading in the right direction, said Mr Gan, who also chairs the Ministerial Committee on Ageing.

In 20 years, Singapore will be facing challenges similar to the ones Japan is dealing with now.

Singapore's move to get firms to re-hire those eligible up to the age of 65 from 62 - and eventually to 67 - is something it learnt from Japan, said Mr Gan, who was the manpower minister before taking on his current portfolio.

Japan wants to keep people working for even longer. He said: "Our target is 67, but if we live longer and longer, we clearly need to adjust according to lifespan."

Japan has been preparing for its ageing population for decades, but was still caught off guard by the ballooning group of older people, and now has long waiting lists for its eldercare services.

This is because of the longer lifespan of the Japanese, said Professor Junichiro Ohgata of Tokyo University's Institute of Gerontology. Before World War II, the Japanese had an average lifespan of 50 years. Today, they have the longest lifespan in the world - women live an average of 86 years, and men, 82 years.

Singaporeans are also living longer - about 15 years more than in 1965. Said Mr Gan: "We need to build in flexibility and adapt strategies as the demographic pattern evolves."

That is why the Government wants to promote home-care services, so many elderly people can continue living at home. To do this, the minister wants to adopt Japan's "3Cs" approach.

First, providing comprehensive care - social, medical and care support - for the elderly living at home.

Second, building up capacity ahead of need, such as adding more than 20 nursing homes and several hospitals and polyclinics in the coming decade.

Third, giving caregivers more support, such as guidance on how to take care of the old and frail in the family, and respite, so they can manage in the long haul.

Said Mr Gan: "We have always taken the position that ageing can be fulfilling to the individual, who can also be an asset to society."

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