We are observing a worrying trend of family caregivers making sacrifices to shoulder the burden of looking after their loved ones (Are Singaporeans ready for Ah Kong to age in place?; Aug 30).
These family caregivers belong to two groups: the relatively healthy seniors looking after other senior family members and the younger economically active caregivers putting aside careers or shifting to part-time work to care for their elderly family members.
Both groups of caregivers need to be properly supported and identified early as at-risk individuals themselves.
In the case of a senior caregiver, the strain of looking after a chronically sick family member inevitably impacts his personal health. He either overlooks his own health problems or he can have a breakdown due to stress.
The economic impact on the younger group of caregivers cannot be understated as these individuals withdraw from the workforce. This further compounds our existing manpower shortfalls.
The way forward has to encompass solutions that close the gaps in our support services.
One way is to professionalise non-medical caregivers.
We can develop and raise the training standards of professional local caregivers and deploy who we term as community caregivers through either voluntary welfare organisations or healthcare organisations. This will elevate the standard of home care and ensure there is consistency in the competencies of such caregivers.
A second way is to narrow the funding gap.
A common reason for the hesitation in engaging home care services is the out-of-pocket expense, even for subsidised services.
Institutional care provides an all-inclusive service, including meals, and there are many more funding and payment options, including the use of Medisave.
For home care services to be sustainable, further tweaks to the existing payment and funding models are needed to reduce the out-of-pocket cash outlay from the clients.
Third, there is a need to look at future societal norms. We are particularly worried for the younger caregivers. They represent our present and future workforce.
Human resource practitioners and policymakers need to formulate new schemes that will support and encourage family caregivers to remain at work, while having peace of mind about their loved ones at home.
Daniel Tan (Dr)
Caregiving Welfare Association