Aged care issue needs an airing

Madam Soh Moh Chun (left) and Mr Lim Say Phang, 61, doing some gardening at HortPark’s therapeutic garden on May 14, 2016, as Alzheimer’s Disease Association volunteer Kamala Samy M.L., 62, and Senior Minister of State Desmond Lee (in red) look on.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

An in-depth report on the state of local nursing homes was released last week.

It highlighted some of the most complex challenges facing residential aged care today: a startling lack of choice in affordable living options for those who cannot be cared for at home and yet are not sick enough to require intensive nursing care, an overemphasis on medical models of care and a severe shortage of workers.

We need more candid conversations on this because all of us will have an aunt, uncle, brother, sister or parent needing some form of personal, social or medical care in future.

By 2030, one in four people here will be a senior citizen.

There are a variety of reasons why some of these older folk will need to find another place to live in.

Many of the 12,000 people who live in nursing homes now do so not because they have heavy nursing needs, but because there is no one to care for them at home.

Already, the number of elderly people living alone is expected to jump three times to 92,000 by 2030.

As family sizes shrink, Singaporeans have been coping with the caregiving work by relying heavily on foreign domestic workers. But that pool of labour is dwindling, with source countries limiting the supply and maids less keen to work here.

The study suggested having assisted living facilities, which are popular elsewhere, for more independent seniors who need help with personal care.

The Ministry of Health said assisted living is a service worth studying.

However, some global observers have noted how an assisted living facility, an idea which originally arose as a supposed improvement to regimented nursing homes, can become a disheartening place.

This happens when the all-important quality-of-life issue that is used to market such places is directed more towards people planning to leave Mum there, rather than Mum herself.

In planning for such facilities, it is important to ask Mum what she wants.

Janice Tai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'Aged care issue needs an airing'. Print Edition | Subscribe