Tuesday 17 July 2012

Help couples age together

Study recommends new approach to eldercare services, to draw on bonds between elderly married couples 
by Neo Chai Chin, TODAY, 16 Jul 2012

As the Republic braces itself for the silver tsunami, a three-year study has revealed, among other findings, a glaring lack of awareness among the respondents of eldercare services, and a higher-than-expected proportion of those below 65 who have either considered relocating overseas post-retirement or were not sure they would remain here. 

Calling for eldercare services to evolve - by drawing on the bonds between elderly married couples - the study also reaffirmed that a majority of Singaporeans would prefer to live with their family members when they grow old. 

Funded by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) and the Singapore Tote Board, the study was conducted between 2008 and last year by National University of Singapore academic Thang Leng Leng and Fei Yue Community Services (FYCS) researcher Emily Lim. 

The study included a survey of 300 respondents aged 16 to 92, as well as interviews with 170 elderly people aged 55 to 90 who were living alone or with their families. 

Of the 255 people surveyed who were below 65 years old, almost 35 per cent said they preferred to live with their spouse only when they grow old, and a similar proportion said they preferred to live with their spouse and children. 

The rest preferred other arrangements. Asked who they would prefer to care for them when they were frail, more than one in three respondents named their spouse.

The respondents' preferences on living arrangements stem from "choice and desire for independence and freedom, yet maintaining close emotional ties with their children", said the researchers. 

Among other things, the researchers recommended that eldercare centres offer activities for elderly married couples to foster closer bonds and think up ways to get more seniors to the centres. For instance, eldercare centres should conduct more courses for couples, such as on communication skills, massage and cooking. 

While the researchers found that seniors living alone here were generally resilient and equipped with coping strategies, they also recommended that the Government look into more medical subsidies or concessions to help especially those older than 75 and who are without comprehensive medical insurance coverage to cope with medical expenses. 

"Those who have children should not be excluded from subsidies or concessions as seniors prefer to be independent from their children," they added. 

Why some elderly don't make use of services

Retiree S K Tan and his wife, both 68, fit the profile of the independent elderly: They are close to their two grown-up children but choose to live by themselves in a four-room flat in Sin Ming. 

Mr Tan told TODAY that, when his wife had cancer eight years ago, he was her primary caregiver, with the family providing moral support. He and his friends do not use activity centres for seniors in their neighbourhood, perceiving them as "more for people with no family support".

Speaking to TODAY, Centre for Seniors chairman Lim Sia Hoe noted that the elderly could choose not to make use of seniors' activity centres as they already have their own routines and habits. 

They could also feel that they do not belong at such centres, or simply do not know the activities on offer, she added. 

The Fei Yue survey found that almost seven in 10 respondents were unaware of the services provided at neighbourhood links and seniors' activity centres, although awareness was higher among older people. This could be due to the younger generations not planning for the future, said the researchers.

But Ms Lim Sia Hoe felt the infrastructure and mindset of eldercare service providers need to change to help couples age together. "If couples can no longer (take care of each other at home), we need to work on supporting couples, including in nursing home settings, day care and sheltered home settings … In sheltered homes, men are grouped together and, women, together. So, we have to look at how to make it more cohesive," said Ms Lim, who is also General Manager of NTUC Eldercare.

Another potentially worrying statistic: While about seven in 10 respondents below 65 have not considered moving overseas after they retire, more than one in four had either thought about relocating abroad post-retirement or were not sure about staying here. 

Top reasons cited were the lower cost of living and slower pace of life abroad, as well as a more pleasant environment. Given Singapore's economic progress and "high quality of life", this number was higher than expected, said the researchers.

Nevertheless, Ms Lim Sia Hoe said that, based on her experience with the elderly, the vast majority prefer to age in Singapore, with friends and family around them.

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