Three final-year Nanyang Technological University (NTU) communications students have taken it upon themselves to highlight the plight of caregivers in Singapore.
In partnership with the Health Promotion Board and the Asian Women’s Welfare Association (AWWA)’s Centre for Caregivers, their final-year project titled “Walk With Me: A Caregiver’s Journey” aims to raise awareness of the need for caregivers to take care of themselves, as well as the people under their charge.
Traditionally, the term “caregiver” refers to professional care providers such as doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff.
But what the three-member team hopes to educate the public about is that the term should cover everyone who administers care to a loved one. That would include people who look after spouses, dependents or other relatives who suffer from disabilities, and mental, terminal, chronic or life-limiting illnesses, as well as old age.
A member of the team, 25-year-old Ng Jun Feng, told Yahoo! Singapore that Singapore’s population of caregivers will inevitably grow, highlighting that at the moment, their needs are not being attended to.
“They are often neglected, for example, by friends who visit them,” said Ng. “Friends of caregivers are more likely to ask about the condition of the person they care for instead of showing concern for the caregivers themselves — for instance, the stress they’re facing.”
His teammate, 22-year-old Candy Leow, noted that the provision of care applies to people of all backgrounds and circumstances.
“This is something that crosses socioeconomic boundaries,” she said. “Regardless of (one’s circumstances), you might still become a caregiver, as long as you have an elderly family member requiring your attention… caregiving is not something you can avoid.”
The need for caregivers is becoming increasingly crucial as Singapore’s population ages, with one in five Singaporeans slated to be aged 65 or older by the year 2030.
Compounding the problem, the average nuclear family size here is steadily decreasing, according to figures from the Centre for Enabled Living (CEL), a unit of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS).
“This indicates that all of us will become family caregivers, in one way or another,” said Leow. “It’s a journey we may all have to undergo, be it short or long, depending on the needs of our care recipients.”
Need to seek help
Leow said a lack of self-recognition of a person as a caregiver could seriously cripple his or her ability to provide good care to the people depending on them.
“Asians, in particular, see taking care of elderly parents as an act of filial piety — many people tell us, well, it’s my family… my mum, my dad, I just have to do it,” she said. “They just see it as something they ought to do, and may not understand that they can and should prepare themselves for this role.”
According to the NTU team, a key issue that caregivers experience is a reluctance to seek help themselves, even as they provide constant support to their loved ones.
“You may be able to cope with medical bills, but caregiving as an act, day in, day out, emotionally it can be taxing, whether you’re rich or poor — and asking for help really isn’t that bad,” she added.
[Click here for a PDF guide on self-care for caregivers]
The campaign, which was conducted through February and early March, involved outreach efforts including exhibitions at clinics and hospitals, block visits and a workshop for caregivers. It aimed also to counter the notion that help should only be sought when it “really is needed”.
Caregivers have needs, too
CEL’s assistant manager in research, planning and implementation, Ong Heng, shared that some of the challenges that caregivers face include the lack of personal time to rest and dealing with the financial burden involved in taking care of another person.
“[The lack of personal time to unwind and rest] usually leads to neglect, depression and complete exhaustion,” he said.
Director of AWWA’s Centre for Caregivers Manmohan Singh adds that the daily challenges of dealing with one’s emotions of frustration, guilt, anger and anxiety that arise from caregiving also add to the strain of caregivers.
The government, however, isn’t sitting still.
Together with the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), the CEL runs awareness talks on caregiving, as well as caregiver training programmes and courses. The government also provides an annual caregivers training grant of $200, beefed up by the $120 monthly foreign domestic worker levy grant for families who hire helpers for the care of their elderly relatives, which will be available from later this year.
Acknowledging, in particular, its latest efforts in its budget to allocate subsidies and support toward programmes that help the elderly and disabled, Manmohan says these initiatives have to be complemented by other indirectly involved parties as well.
“Employers could look more kindly into caregiver leave for all full-time employees in Singapore, or flexible working hours for caregivers,” he said, adding that the government could lead by example in providing initiatives to encourage private sector employers to adopt schemes like this.
Just last month, the AIC and CEL also launched an online community for caregivers on Facebook, called CarersSG, aimed at providing a place for caregivers here to pool information, resources and experiences on providing care for the elderly.
“We hope to bring caregivers and potential ones together, to encourage them to see caregiving for their loved one positively,” said AIC representative Chong Jian Bing. “We want to assure them that they are not alone in this journey as there are many others who are doing the same out there.”