Serving quarantine order was '60-hour nightmare', says sole caregiver of mum who has Alzheimer's

A caregiver was appointed to Mr Seng after the Agency for Integrated Care was notified on Sept 21, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - A 60-hour nightmare is how private-hire driver Daniel Seng recalled his experience after he was told to serve a 14-day quarantine for ferrying a passenger who tested positive for Covid-19.

Mr Seng, 41, who is the sole caregiver to his 74-year-old mother who has Alzheimer's disease, said his experience with the Ministry of Health (MOH), contact tracers and the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), revealed significant gaps should the primary provider of a vulnerable family member need to self-isolate.

In response to queries from The Straits Times which provided details of the case, the MOH said it has an established protocol for caregivers under quarantine order to receive help if they are unable to make alternative arrangements for their care recipient.

The MOH will notify relevant agencies to provide assistance such as interim caregiving in a timely manner.

However, it did not stipulate the expected turnaround time for caregiving help to be rendered, or comment on Mr Seng's case.

Mr Seng said he was first notified on the night of Sept 20 by the contact tracing team that he was to be quarantined with his mother, as he is her sole caregiver.

However, on the same night, he claimed the order was reversed and he was asked to make alternative caregiving arrangements for her.

Mr Seng, who has an estranged older sister, was unable to find relatives or friends to look after his mother at such short notice and asked the MOH that night if his mother could stay temporarily at a nursing home.

He was told by MOH that this would not be possible. No other immediate solutions or alternative arrangements were suggested.

The next morning, he contacted AIC for other caregiving arrangements.

At 11pm that night, he was informed that a caregiver from AIC would look after his mother at his home while he served his quarantine at a designated government facility.

The next day, Mr Seng found himself facing another problem - his mother had run out of their flat in Hougang while he was self-isolating in his room.

"Her lack of cognitive ability to understand the concept of a quarantine saw her running out of the house in exasperation, and I was not able to chase after her, as it would be violating my quarantine order," he said.

Although the officers who were to escort him to the quarantine facility eventually found her, the ordeal caused Mr Seng a lot of distress and anxiety.

The MOH said that those in the same household may serve their quarantine order together. However, if those under quarantine have household members who are not close contacts of the Covid-19 cases, they will have to serve their quarantine order in a government quarantine facility.

"Caregivers may appeal on a case-by-case basis to serve out their quarantine order at home in order to continue providing care.

"In such a situation, the caregiver will be required to don the required personal protective equipment, when coming into contact with the care recipient.

"The caregiver and the care recipient should acknowledge and accept the risk of potentially exposing the care recipient to the virus if the caregiver were to test positive subsequently," it added.

The ministry did not address Mr Seng's allegations on the delays and lack of coordination between the agencies, or the reversal of orders given on Sept 20.

The AIC said the MOH notifies the agency when it comes across caregivers of elderly family members with medical conditions who are facing challenges serving their quarantine order.

The AIC then speaks to the caregiver to assess the situation and their needs for the duration of the quarantine order. The agency also checks if other family members can be roped in to help the main caregiver during this period.

If other family members are able to step in but require additional support with caregiving, the AIC can arrange for various types of home care services, such as home nursing and nursing home respite care.

"Based on the needs, and if there are no other caregivers available, arrangements will be made for the senior to be supported with relevant care services, including basic daily care trained by professional caregivers," the AIC said.

A caregiver was appointed to Mr Seng after the AIC was notified of his situation on the morning of Sept 21, and arrangements were made to coordinate the caregiver's arrival with Mr Seng's departure to the government quarantine facility.

The agency also said it supported Mr Seng's mother with her meals and escorted her for a medical appointment during the 14 days while Mr Seng served his quarantine orders.

However, it did not respond to queries on the caregiver's expertise in taking care of Alzheimer's patients like Mr Seng's mother, and it is unclear if all appointed caregivers for previous cases were trained in areas of expertise relevant to the patient's medical background.

Mr Seng said: "Any caregiver of Alzheimer's patients would know that they rely a lot on routine, and ensure that it is disrupted as little as possible. I'm not sure how aware the caregiver is on her daily needs and routines."

Alzheimer's Disease Association chief executive Jason Foo told ST in May that routine plays an essential role in the well-being of dementia patients "as it offers predictability, assurance, and meaning to their lives".

Disruptions to their routine could mean that they face higher levels of mental distress.

Caregivers of Alzheimer's patients who face challenges and would like to seek help can join the following support groups:

Alzheimer's Disease Association Caregiving Support Group

Hotline: 6377 0700 or e-mail

Touch Caregivers Support

Hotline: 6804 6555

Those who need support in caring for their elderly loved ones can call the AIC hotline on 1800-650-6060.

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