Debate on ministries’ budgets: Health

Parliament: Assisted living with care services for seniors in the pipeline

Madam Linda Ng, 55, and her husband Andrew Sim, 62, welcome more options for independent living for seniors. She had to stop work after a 2007 car accident left her with limited mobility in her neck and back.
Madam Linda Ng, 55, and her husband Andrew Sim, 62, welcome more options for independent living for seniors. She had to stop work after a 2007 car accident left her with limited mobility in her neck and back.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

They may buy homes with housekeeping, emergency help; caregivers also get more aid

Seniors will get greater support to live independently, and caregivers will get more help with finances and respite.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) is working with the Ministry of National Development (MND) to pilot an assisted living model in public housing, where seniors buy a home bundled with customisable care services like housekeeping services and 24/7 emergency support, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor yesterday.

MOH will also roll out a Caregiver Support Action Plan over the next two years to enhance financial support, flexible work arrangements and respite care options for caregivers, said Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong. They were speaking in Parliament during the debate on MOH's budget.

Said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong: "With an ageing population and longer life expectancy, caregiving needs will rise, with family and informal caregivers playing an increasingly important role.

"Many will have to balance their work and family responsibilities. There is therefore greater urgency for society to come together and collectively support our caregivers," Mr Gan added.

Elaborating on assisted living, Dr Khor said the model could take the form of flats with senior-friendly features, complemented by communal spaces like recreation-cum-dining rooms with light programming to encourage interaction.

The senior care services could span the range of health screenings, exercise programmes, care coordination and personal care.

MOH and MND will start focus group discussions with stakeholders, including seniors, caregivers and eldercare professionals, in the next few months to better understand Singaporeans' aspirations.

 
 
 

Retiree Linda Ng, 55, and her husband Andrew Sim, 62, a retail manager, are looking forward to having more options for independent living for seniors.

"It's very good for old people like me because I may need a caregiver when I get older," said Madam Ng, who used to work in sales.

She had to stop work after a 2007 car accident left her with limited mobility in her neck and back. She was recently diagnosed with high blood pressure and diabetes.

She also makes near-daily trips to her parents' home. They are in their 70s, and her father suffers from dementia.

"It's good to have more events where everybody can come together and get to know each other, not like in the flats nowadays with closed doors," she added.

Under the Caregiver Support Action Plan, a new $200 monthly Home Caregiving Grant will be introduced by the end of the year to provide more flexibility to offset caregiving expenses for those who need help with at least three of the six activities of daily living: washing, dressing, feeding, toileting, walking or moving around and transferring from bed to chair.

MOH is also piloting two types of respite care in the second half of the year.

The first is a night respite service with selected nursing home providers, to support caregivers of seniors with dementia who have behavioural and sleep issues.

The second pilot involves a home-based custodial care respite service, which offers assistance such as showering, dressing and feeding for cancer patients receiving home palliative care.

The Agency for Integrated Care will also test a pre-enrolment system with some senior care centres and nursing homes to ensure that caregivers can access respite services in a shorter period of time.

Mr Tong said MOH will continue to explore new models of care to meet caregivers' needs.

On the senior centres front, Dr Khor said MOH will work with operators to enhance the scope and reach of services at these senior activity centres, senior care centres and active ageing hubs, from financial year 2020. "For example, those currently providing day care services may offer additional wellness programmes," she added, replying to Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC).

Mr Gan noted that MOH has added 5,600 nursing home beds, 4,100 day places and 5,400 home care places since 2011.

The ministry is also tapping technology to reach out to seniors, starting with those from the Merdeka Generation who are more literate in technology, said Dr Khor.

MOH is also working with other agencies to include features in the Moments of Life app that can, among other things, show seniors programmes near their homes.

They can also use it to check their eligibility for benefits like the Merdeka Generation Package and GST Voucher scheme, she said.

A feature letting seniors book active ageing programmes will be explored in the future.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2019, with the headline 'Assisted living with care services for seniors in the pipeline'. Print Edition | Subscribe