SINGAPORE - There will be more infrastructural support for seniors to live independently and help for caregivers in terms of 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, in which 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 on Wednesday (March 6).
The 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 the Health Ministry'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 collectively support our caregivers, and ensure that adequate 'hardware' and 'heartware' are in place," Mr Gan added.
Elaborating on the new assisted living model, Dr Khor said that it 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.
The MOH and MND will start focus group discussions with stakeholders, including seniors, caregivers and eldercare professionals, over the next few months to better understand Singaporeans' aspirations.
Retiree Linda Ng, 55, and her husband Andrew Sim, 62, are looking forward to having more options to 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.
She had to stop her work in sales after a car accident in 2007 left her with limited mobility in her neck and back, and was also recently diagnosed with high blood pressure and diabetes. She also makes near-daily trips to her parents' home to look after them. 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 the flats nowadays where it's closed doors," Madam Ng 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, such as the cost of hiring a maid, home and community-based services, as well as transport to medical appointments. It will replace the Foreign Domestic Worker Grant, which provides $120 a month to families that hire a maid to care for their loved ones.
Eligible care recipients can nominate any caregiver to get the new means-tested grant, which is for those caring for persons with permanent moderate disability - that is, they require assistance with at least three activities of daily living. These are: washing, dressing, feeding, toileting, walking or moving around, and transferring from a bed to chair or wheelchair.
In addition, the MOH is 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 at night.
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 out a pre-enrolment system with some senior care centres and nursing homes from the first quarter of the year, to ensure that caregivers can access respite services in a shorter period of time.
Mr Tong said the MOH will continue to explore new models of care to meet caregivers' needs, and will provide more details on other measures from the Action Plan in the coming months.
On the senior centres front, the MOH will work with its operators to enhance the scope and reach of services in senior centres, which include senior activity centres, senior care centres and active ageing hubs, from the financial year 2020, said Dr Khor.
"For example, those currently providing day care services may offer additional wellness programmes. Services will be made available to all seniors, not just those living in studio apartments and rental flats," she added.
Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) had asked for an update on plans for senior activity centres, and Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) asked about support for the elderly.
To encourage ageing in place, the MOH has added 5,600 nursing home beds, 4,100 day places and 5,400 home care places since 2011, said Mr Gan.
The ministry is also tapping technology to reach out to seniors, starting with those from the Merdeka Generation (MG) who are more literate in technology, said Dr Khor.
It is partnering the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office, and Public Service Division to include a new module under the Moments of Life app for active ageing later this year. The app will include an Active Ageing Programme finder that can show seniors programmes near their homes. They can also use the app to check their eligibility for government benefits like the Merdeka Generation Package and GST Voucher scheme, she added.
A booking feature for active ageing programmes will be explored in the future.