Study on caregivers and the support they need

Retiree Elvin Tan used to care for his late mother who had dementia. The 54-year-old experienced challenging moments that made him realise he needed some help.

So when he had to look after his 68-year-old brother with schizophrenia, he asked a medical social worker at the Institute for Mental Health for daytime caregiver support.

His brother now attends All Saints Home's daycare centre in Tampines a few days each week so that he can have a breather.

Said Mr Tan: "When we feel close to our tipping point, we need to turn to people who can encourage, advise and support us, so that we can take a break."

In an effort to help caregivers like Mr Tan who look after their charges on a long-term basis, a nationwide study will be conducted in the second quarter of this year to better understand the impact on the caregivers and the support they need.

To be conducted by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), the study will survey those caring for children, adults with disabilities as well as persons with chronic illnesses and mental health issues.

It seeks to find out the level of social support caregivers receive, their psychological needs and their relationship with the ones they care for. The findings will enable agencies to plan for services that will be useful to caregivers.

As at 2004, it is estimated that there were about 210,800 caregivers... The number is likely to have soared, given the ageing population.

Results of the study will be released in the second half of next year, said NCSS' deputy chief executive officer Tina Hung.

NCSS released the details of the study at an inaugural caregiver symposium at Lifelong Learning Institute in Eunos yesterday. The symposium was organised by the Agency of Integrated Care (AIC) and NCSS.

Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said in her speech that those looking after the elderly may require respite services to avoid burnout.

"These services are available at selected daycare centres and nursing homes and to date, over 1,600 people have tapped on these respite care services.

"Caregivers of those with dementia can also arrange for an eldersitter to engage their loved ones at home for a few hours. So far, over 1,200 seniors have been supported through this arrangement," said Dr Khor.

Usage of these respite services has increased by at least 50 per cent between 2015 and last year, according to AIC.

The agency said it does not have data on the current number of caregivers in Singapore. As at 2004, it is estimated that there were about 210,800 caregivers looking after seniors, disabled children, and the physically and mentally ill. The number is likely to have soared, given the ageing population.

According to the 2010 Survey on Informal Caregiving that was commissioned by the former Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, nearly half - or 45 per cent - of potential caregivers said they needed help or training to properly care for an elderly family member aged 75 and above.

Those who reported significantly higher stress levels faced disrupted schedules, as well as health and financial problems that resulted from their caregiving duties.

To support some of these caregivers, AIC started the Nursing Home Respite Care programme in 2013 that allows caregivers to leave their loved ones at a nursing home for up to 30 days.

The programme is now available at more than 40 nursing homes, up from 15 in 2013.

Janice Tai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 04, 2018, with the headline 'Study on caregivers and the support they need'. Print Edition | Subscribe