SINGAPORE – Often all a caregiver wants is a listening ear and someone who can offer emotional support, said Ms Wang Yu Hsuan, director of eldercare services at social service agency Montfort Care.

And so its hotline, which was started in 2020, does just that.

Part of the suite of services under its Caregiver Community Lab in Radin Mas, the hotline provides a safe space for caregivers to talk about their struggles and discuss ways to handle their caregiving issues with professional staff.

The lab boosts the support for caregivers in the neighbourhood, and is one of several pilot caregiving projects the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) has started with its community partners.

This comes after a large-scale NCSS study found that caregivers who received help in caring for their loved ones reported a better quality of life.

The study, which started in 2018 and whose results were released in early August, aimed to find out the factors that affect caregivers’ quality of life and how their needs can be addressed.

It polled more than 4,500 Singapore residents aged 21 and older who are caring for a loved one with disabilities, chronic illnesses or mental health conditions.

The NCSS said this is the first time a study on caregivers’ quality of life of such a scale has been done here. Its key findings were:

– Just over half of the caregivers are “burdened” by or “barely coping” with their caregiving responsibilities and they feel they have less control over their lives.

– Caregivers who received help in caring for their loved ones reported a better quality of life. Almost two in five polled provided care to their loved ones alone, with the lack of other helpers being commonly cited as their reason for going solo.

– Less than 30 per cent used caregiver services.

A significant proportion of caregivers who did not use caregiving services cited cost as a reason. The other commonly cited reasons include the lack of such services.

For those who used a caregiving service, they rated most services, especially caregiver-related training programmes, respite care and support groups, as useful.

The study also noted that as Singapore’s population ages rapidly and family sizes shrink, more people are likely to become caregivers to the seniors in their family.

An NCSS spokesman said providing caregiver support is one of the council’s key service priorities and understanding the challenges caregivers face, such as through the study, helps to improve the support given.

For example, the Win Caregivers Network was launched in April to train and connect caregivers to a network of other caregivers, volunteers and support services.

The NCSS spokesman also pointed out that the Home Caregiving Grant will be increased to further reduce the costs for families caring for a loved one with disabilities.

In March, it was announced in the White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development that the grant will be doubled from $200 to $400 a month for beneficiaries with a monthly per capita household income of up to $1,200.

Over at Montfort Care, its staff engaged caregivers to find out the barriers they faced in assessing support services and the help they want when it planned its Caregiver Community Lab programmes.

Besides the hotline, the lab has come up with a map of available resources in the estate, such as clinics, services for the elderly and 7-Eleven shops, for the caregiver’s easy reference.

In December last year, it also introduced a support programme called Caregivers Recharge! for caregivers to share their experiences and learn from other caregivers, and also hear from professionals on topics relevant to them, among other things.

Last year, the lab expanded its operations to Tanjong Pagar and staff are now engaging caregivers in that area to find out their needs and challenges, Ms Wang said.

She said that the caregivers the lab sees range in age from the young in their 20s to seniors in their 80s, and one common issue they face is loneliness. They also worry about medical and other expenses.

Commenting on the study’s finding that the majority of caregivers not using caregiver services, Ms Wang said this is because of the lack of awareness, and the issue of affordability of such services.

She added: “People often see the act of caregiving as expected duties and responsibilities as children, parents or spouses.

“They don’t see themselves as a caregiver and so they might not see how caregiving services are relevant to them.”

Those who want to call the Community Caregiver Lab hotline can do so on 8343-3224.