Dr Kalyani Mehta, Chairman of Silver Caregivers Co-operative,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning, everyone, I am happy to join all of you in this very meaningful symposium to celebrate caregivers and to discuss how we, as a society, can better support caregivers.
2 I would like to first commend Silver Caregivers Co-operative, or SCCL, for your efforts to empower and equip caregivers of our seniors. Your work is particularly important as our society ages.
3 In 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be over 65 years old. The care needs of the population will increase, perhaps exponentially. With family sizes shrinking at the same time, our old-age support ratio will decrease. We will face growing caregiving needs.
4 In 2018, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) conducted a study on the Quality of Life (QOL) of Caregivers. The study found that caregivers took pride in caring for their loved ones and understood the importance of their role. But, even the strongest caregivers need support and respite. While just under half of caregivers could manage the demands of their caregiving quite well, slightly more than half the caregivers surveyed expressed that they had challenges in coping.
5 Actually from a personal experience, a few years ago, when my late grandma was still alive and throughout the last few years of her life, she was grappling with dementia. But through it all my mum had been the main caregiver and she is the type, I am sure many of you would know this archetype of mothers – the quiet, suffered in silence, stoic type. Even if she has got knee pain, she has had a fall, she would not tell you. Which is why I am most worried about her. Because if anything happens, she would not tell me. But even her, you know, the stoic individual that I know for all my life, had troubles coping and it was very apparent even though she is not saying anything. But I think all of us could see the stress that she was carrying on her shoulders. Not surprisingly, many of these caregivers that we are talking about today are from families that have less resources or families that have multiple care-recipients.
6 Most of us in this room today understand the challenges that caregivers face. These can include mental and physical exhaustion, feelings of helplessness, confusion and anxiety. Some caregivers go to the extent of ignoring self-care, because they feel ‘guilty’ in taking a break from caregiving. Caregivers need a strong support ecosystem to relieve their caregiving burden and to help them provide care more sustainably. We need to inculcate a “care-titude” – the theme of today’s symposium, through instilling greater awareness and inclusive practices that support caregivers. We need caregivers to keep up their “care-titude” – their motivation to care for their loved ones - by strengthening their support networks.
Fostering a Care-titude in society
7 Many of us, at some point in our lives, will find ourselves in one caregiving role or another. It is therefore important that we develop a strong caregiver support ecosystem.
i. The healthcare and social service sectors have put in place caregiver support services:
o MOH, together with partner agencies launched the Caregiver Support Action Plan in 2019 to strengthen support for senior caregiving. Initiatives include the Night Respite pilot, which supports caregivers of seniors with dementia who experience behavioural and sleep issues at night.
o NCSS funds social service agencies such as Caregivers’ Alliance to provide caregiver support and training for caregivers of persons with mental health conditions. Together with SG Enable, NCSS is also supporting CaringSG’s Project 3i to build stronger support networks for caregivers of persons with disabilities.
ii. The larger community plays an important role in this support ecosystem for caregivers, complementing healthcare and social service sectors.
o Social enterprises like SCCL provides training for caregivers of seniors and helps caregivers like for instance, Belinda. Let me share Belinda’s story. Belinda has been looking after her mum who is bedbound and has dementia for the past 10 years. As a member of SCCL, Belinda meets with other caregivers through SCCL’s Tea Sessions as Prof mentions earlier, for mutual support. She also participates regularly in SCCL’s Caregiver Training Workshops, where caregivers learn tips to better manage their caregiving responsibilities. The training is subsidised under the Caregivers Training Grant.
o Similarly, NCSS is also working with the People’s Association and Caregivers Alliance to strengthen caregiver support at local neighbourhoods. They pilot community-based, caregiver-led support networks in six neighbourhoods all across Singapore – where local communities can recruit, train, and connect caregivers to support networks and empower caregivers like Belinda. In future, caregivers can look forward to more of such community efforts across our little red dot.
iii. Employers, on the other hand, play an extremely important role in supporting caregivers, whether they are caring for young children, ageing parents or loved ones with disabilities or mental health challenges. We encourage all employers to put in place flexible work arrangements to support their employees who may need time-off for their caregiving duties.
iv. This year is the year of Celebrating SG Families, my wish is for family members to rally around those who have caregiving responsibilities. Caregivers don’t have to shoulder the load alone. Talk to your family members, reach out to them, share the caregiving load.
8 The caregiving journey can take a toll on a family’s finances as well. There are subsidies and grants available to support these families. One example is the Home Caregiving Grant or HCG, which provides a monthly pay out to reduce caregiving costs for those with moderate disability. As was announced in the White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development, the HCG will be enhanced next year in 2023 from the existing $200 monthly to up to $400 monthly to further reduce caregiving costs. Caregivers who are seeking employment may also tap on the Adapt and Grow Initiative, where they can find support to reintegrate to the workforce more seamlessly.
9 Caregiving can be a complicated and stressful issue that we deal with, but caregivers have to realise that caregivers, as a whole, as an individual, they are not alone in this journey. The AIC, Agency for Integrated Care, will launch a publicity campaign in 2022 to promote AIC’s one-stop resource for caregivers to help them navigate the resources on hand and find out what support they can get. Caregivers can visit the AIC website for a suite of caregiving, mental health and dementia-related resources. The President’s Challenge has also designated “Caring for Caregivers” as their theme for next year – you can look forward to expanded funding support for programmes that cater to caregivers.
10 As much as recipients need care, our caregivers equally need the support, care, and TLC as well. We recognise the invaluable role that caregivers play in our lives, and in our society. Let us work together to better understand what our caregivers need and to strengthen our caregiver support ecosystem. I wish everyone a fruitful discussion at the symposium today. Thank you.