Q&A with Jason Cheah, CEO of the Agency for Integrated Care

Once a part of the Ministry of Health, the Agency for Integrated Care was incorporated in 2009 to help the Government plan and implement services to help Singapore's rapidly ageing population.

Its chief executive, Dr Jason Cheah, answered some questions from The Sunday Times on the challenges and achievements of caring for a rapidly greying Singapore.

How many programmes are there to help caregivers currently?

Since 2010, the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), together with service providers including voluntary welfare organisations, and other government agencies have developed and rolled out more than 20 programmes to cater to different needs of care recipients and their caregivers.

The range of programmes has progressively been widened to enable more seniors to age in place within the community.

The schemes do the following:

*Help older people move across different care settings - like from the hospital to the community - and ensure that they continue to receive best-suited care.

*Provide temporary relief to caregivers.

*Help relieve families of health care and social care costs.

*Train and equip caregivers with relevant skills to better care for the elderly at home and in the community.

* Providing more information and resources on eldercare and caregiving and making the information within easy reach.

What are the biggest achievements in eldercare in recent years?

Since 2010, one of the biggest steps made in eldercare is the progressive shift towards more community-based care including mental health for the elderly. This is to better support the wishes of more elderly clients to age in place, near their loved ones in the community.

It is also in sync with the broader vision to create a person-centred care system, one which offers more options for seniors and their caregivers to be cared for at home or in the community, based on their needs and preferences.

The shift is in tandem with the Government's investment in more senior care centres, senior activity centres and its commitment to grow the home-based care sector, such as home nursing, home medical and home personal care services.

Older people who need care often have complex social and medical needs.

To better address the care needs of seniors holistically, a more recent milestone in eldercare is the integration of health and social care under a single entity - namely AIC.

The integration of the Centre for Enabled Living (CEL)'s aged care functions with AIC's ones took place in April 2013. This will help ensure that seniors are better cared for through consolidated resources and that they and their caregivers are able to gain access to care services hassle-free.

The CEL, now known as SG Enable, looks after the care needs of the disabled.

Secondly, there is also increasing emphasis on providing more support for caregivers. This is an area which is developing but which has gained some positive outcomes through pilot programmes such as the Nursing Home Respite Care project rolled out in May 2013, under which caregivers can admit their loved ones in nursing homes for short stays when they need a break.

Data from a recent study on caregiving shows that less than 5 per cent of families actually use support services, such as daycare centres for the elderly or home care. Why is this so?

Most respondents indicated that they did not utilise formal services because they had no need for them. In some cases, this could be true. For instance, some families may have managed to work out sustainable care arrangements.

But there could also be other reasons why they choose not to use the services.

For example, many caregivers may not have sufficient information to help them decide what kind of care is required for their loved one.

This is where AIC and its partners are working together to better reach out to and educate our caregivers on how to identify what services would really help them in their caregiving journey, sometimes even before they become one.

Some other caregivers may believe they can cope by themselves. Caregiver burnout can be a real phenomenon, however, and we need to help caregivers recognise when they need to take a break. Again, there is a role for outreach and education here.

Given how fast we're ageing currently, what are the challenges ahead in caregiving and how can these be overcome?

With the rapidly ageing population, it is important to impress on people that caregiving is not solely a silver issue but one that can concern everyone at some stage of their life.

Even though they may not be a caregiver now, anyone could one day become one to their parents, grandparents or spouse and later be in need of care as they themselves age.

Therefore, it is important that Singaporeans should start to care to know about eldercare and caregiving earlier to be better prepared for this caregiving journey.

It is good for to learn and prepare in advance about what caregiving entails, the types of care options available, be aware of the financial schemes to tap on and learn more about coping mechanisms.

The challenge often is in getting people to be aware of the existing services and programmes available and connecting people to them.

One of the recent steps we have taken is to enhance the national eldercare portal, Singapore Silver Pages (SSP) (www.silverpages.sg) to provide both health and social care information. This is complemented by the service hub AIC@City Square Mall , which is a physical centre where caregivers can find out more about the resources available.

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