Tuesday 18 December 2012

Caregivers to get some Care too

Pilot programme launched to boost skills of those looking after elderly
By Daryl Chin, The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2012

THOSE helping the elderly get the best out of their silver years have often been neglected themselves, but they will now get assistance as Singapore ramps up its capacity to deal with an ageing population.

A pilot programme to upgrade the skills of those taking care of the old was launched yesterday.

The initiative, which will be progressively rolled out islandwide, is one plank in dealing with Singapore's greying population and the likelihood of an increase in caregivers.

It comes a month ahead of the Government releasing a highly anticipated White Paper on population, which is set to dominate the national agenda and parliamentary debate.

Dubbed the Caregivers Always Ready and Empowered programme or CARE, it will be implemented first by the South West Community Development Council (CDC) for its district.

It aims to give seniors and their caregivers practical solutions to active ageing and a healthy lifestyle.

This will be done with the Health Promotion Board (HPB), through a series of workshops that deal with issues like nutrition, the curtailing of smoking, as well as managing chronic diseases and mental wellness.

The workshops will span a two-year period starting next month.

The programme is expected to benefit about 2,000 caregivers in the South West District, and will be offered free of charge for residents who have elderly family members in need of care.

An HPB spokesman said that extending the programme to domestic workers is also being considered.

District Mayor Amy Khor noted that while the needs of seniors have to be taken care of, equal emphasis should be placed on the well-being of their caregivers, in the wake of an ageing population.

The number of people in Singapore aged 65 and above is expected to triple to 900,000 by 2030.

"This means the number of caregivers is also likely to increase in future, so it's important that they are empowered," said Dr Khor, who is also Minister of State for Health.

The National Health Survey in 2010 revealed that 8.1 per cent of Singaporeans aged 18 to 69 provided regular care to elderly friends or family members.

The top areas in which caregivers thought they should be given more training were identified. These included learning how to care for others, like dressing and bathing them (26.8 per cent), and relieving anxiety and depression in the care recipient (23.2 per cent).

Dr Khor said that based on encounters with residents during house visits, the programme was also suitable for would-be caregivers, given the quick onset of possible problems like mobility issues.

"Instead of waiting for something to happen," Dr Khor said, "residents should better prepare for their caregiver role and find out what support is out there and available for them."

Through its website, South West CDC is also launching an online guide to healthy living, which maps out hawker centres and coffee shops with healthier fare.

A new series of skits focusing on various health financing schemes has also been launched, and will make its rounds in the district in the next two years.

Observers praised the initiatives, with Council for Third Age chairman Gerard Ee saying: "Basic knowledge for a person who needs to take care of others, especially the frail elderly, will go a long way."

Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities divisional director Satyaprakash Tiwari welcomed the move, as it will help reduce the severe bed shortage currently faced by nursing homes.

"Equipping Singaporeans with competency skills to take care of their loved ones will help delay institutionalisation, which is meant for patients who are in greater need," he noted.

Such courses will benefit caregivers like Mr Jason Lau, 42.

Since his 68-year-old mother had a bad fall earlier this year, the engineer has had to take leave regularly to stay home and care for her.

"She turned from an independent woman to someone who needed to be waited on continuously," he said.

Going forward, experts listed more ways to help caregivers.

Mr Tiwari believes more information on issues like dementia can also be provided for caregivers who are not tech-savvy.

Mr Ee suggested that non-governmental organisations could consider setting up more centres to educate caregivers in the heartland.

He added: "People are living longer, so having a high quality of life will benefit both the caregiver and the one being cared for."

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