Sitting in the middle of a brightly-painted living room, Madam Kandasamy Saraswathi is all smiles.
The 64-year-old cheerfully shares her life story, every now and then placing an assuring hand on the left knee of a Chinese elderly woman beside her. This is Madam Anthony Lily, the mother she grew up with; her father remarried after her birth mother passed away.
Their roles are now reversed, with Madam Saraswathi taking on the role of her mother’s primary caregiver.
“About five years ago, I decided to look after my mother full-time when she was diagnosed with dementia,” she explains.
Like many caregivers, Madam Saraswathi faces challenges in her caregiving duties. Her mother has problems communicating that she is hungry and needs help with taking care of her personal hygiene. Last January, she was hospitalised after sustaining fractures from osteoporosis — a degenerative bone disease that typically leads to weaker bones. Being her sole caregiver, Madam Saraswathi occasionally felt stressed from her responsibilities.
To support people like Madam Saraswathi and her mother, the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) connects caregivers and seniors to a network of Community Care support and services.
A support network for seniors
One way this is done is through AIC’s Silver Generation Office (SGO). Its volunteers, known as Silver Generation (SG) Ambassadors, reach out to seniors at their homes, workplaces and community nodes to raise awareness and link seniors to the support available.
SG Ambassadors are trained to identify and follow up within AIC on the seniors’ needs during their engagements. SGO connects seniors to active ageing programmes, befriending and care and support services through the Community Networks for Seniors (CNS) initiative. This initiative is one way where SGO brings government agencies and partners together at the local community to support seniors in living well and ageing gracefully.
Last year, SG Ambassadors Jessie Tay and Fion Soh visited Madam Saraswathi . After learning about her caregiving experience and the stress that she was undergoing, they highlighted her concerns to the SGO and CNS teams.
Ms Nur Hidayah Sajali, who manages CNS in Admiralty and Sembawang, arranged for a community nurse to visit them. The nurse taught Madam Saraswathi how to better care for her mother, and also explained about her mother’s behaviours which resulted from her condition.
Madam Saraswathi also requested for help to get her mother a hospital bed. Her mother tended to wander at night, and she worried the elderly lady might fall. The bed would help keep her mother in bed at night so that Madam Saraswathi can sleep better.
Says Ms Hidayah: “We assessed that this would indeed help Madam Saraswathi . We spoke to partners within the CNS network and managed to find a second-hand hospital bed at no cost.”
With the support that Ms Hidayah connected her to, Madam Saraswathi became more confident in caring for her mother at home. This relieved her stress.
Such experiences add meaning to the 27-year-old’s job. Ms Hidayah joined AIC last year wanting to make a difference to the seniors’ lives.
“It’s deeply satisfying to help seniors among us and see the impact that your assistance can make in their lives,” she says. “Working in AIC, I can see how we play a crucial role in the eldercare landscape by linking seniors and their caregivers to various forms of support so they can grow old at home.”
One stop for advice and information
Aside from setting up community networks to support seniors and caregivers, AIC also fronts multiple channels for people to seek information and advice on caregiving and eldercare.
Mr Mohamad Hashik Hassan and his 84-year-old mother have found some relief through one of these channels — the AIC Link. The 43-year-old is the main caregiver to his mother with dementia.
Last August, his mother was warded at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) after a stroke. It caused her dementia symptoms to become more challenging and also affected her ability to move. As a result, Mr Hashik decided to care for her full-time.
The hospital’s social worker recommended that Mr Hashik apply for financial assistance at AIC Link located at KTPH's Patient Service Centre at level 1.
AIC Link provides caregivers and their loved ones with advice on care services and schemes, and caregiving training and assistance. They are located at public and community hospitals, community nodes and AIC’s office in Maxwell.
AIC Link care consultant Mr Kamaluddin Mahadi worked with the social workers to do more. Besides getting Mr Hashik's mother a subsidised wheelchair through the Seniors’ Mobility and Enabling Fund (SMF), they also helped him apply to install grab bars at home to help his mother move around safely. For this, they tapped on Housing and Development Board’s Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE) programme.
Says Mr Kamaluddin: “In my job, it is important to listen actively from the heart. When people are not aware on what support they need or how to go about getting it, I start by asking questions. Listening to what they share about their situation, I can recommend the suitable financial schemes or care services they need and assist them with applications.”
Since March 2019, AIC has also helped Mr Hashik who applied for day care services for his mother so that he has some time to himself to do the household chores and go to the mosque. In addition, he is currently receiving a monthly payout of $100 under the Pioneer Generation Disability Assistance Scheme (PioneerDAS) administered by AIC. He uses the payout to offset his mother’s day care after subsidies.