More help for caregivers to cope emotionally with roll-out of new TTSH programme

The programme will be the first one to focus on a caregiver's emotional well-being, as previous ones only focused on the skills they needed to care for patients.
The programme will be the first one to focus on a caregiver's emotional well-being, as previous ones only focused on the skills they needed to care for patients.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Madam Janet Ong, a 78-year-old housewife, spent five years caring for her husband after he was stricken by dementia.

"My late husband got lost quite a few times while he was outside - I often worried about where he was and sometimes I cried at night out of stress. But I didn't ask people to help me," she said.

The burden on caregivers like Madam Ong can affect their well-being, with the risk of depression quite high. They will soon get more help on coping with their role emotionally.

Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) will be rolling out a screening tool that will assess caregiver mastery - how in control the caregiver feels of their life situation - and other variables, aimed at identifying those at risk of poor health outcomes.

It will also introduce two training courses that will help caregivers gain practical skills such as problem solving and communication, as well as guide them on processing emotional responses and instilling in them a greater sense of capability.

The training courses are based on programmes by Canada's Sinai Health System, and will be localised and delivered by TTSH staff and community partners.

From 2015 to 2017, 274 pairs of family caregivers-elderly patients were surveyed and it was found that about one in three family caregivers were at risk of depression with high anxiety and a poor quality of life.

This is the first programme to focus on the caregiver's emotional well-being, as previous ones only focused on the skills they needed to care for patients.

The screening tool is also the first that takes caregiver mastery into consideration as other tools currently only focus on measuring their burden.

 
 
 
 

During hospitalisation of their loved ones, caregivers will be screened as part of the patients' discharge planning, so that high-risk caregivers can be identified and have their needs assessed alongside the patients'.

The screening tool only takes five to eight minutes to complete - and categorises caregivers into low, intermediate and high risk.

Depending on their needs and risk levels, caregivers will be referred to training programmes, where they will be trained on resourcefulness, and how to solve problems instead of reacting emotionally to them.

The pilot will start by the end of this year in a hospital setting, with around 300 to 500 caregivers to be assessed. All are looking after dementia patients.

The final cost and details of the programme are still being worked out, but participants will incur no cost in the pilot.

TTSH is looking to work together with community partners to execute the initiatives.

"With the increasingly ageing population in Singapore, we hope to boost the mastery levels of caregivers, so that they are able to continue providing sustained care for their loved ones in the long run without succumbing to ill health themselves," said Dr Chan Ee Yuee, assistant director of nursing at TTSH.