SINGAPORE – When her husband had a stroke in November 2016, Ms Jane Koe, now 70, became his primary caregiver.
Although she had three children and a trained caregiver to support her, Ms Koe acknowledged that she was very afraid at the start, having to take on many new tasks, such as arranging for home physiotherapy sessions and accompanying her husband to follow-up medical appointments.
The housewife’s sharing as a panellist on Saturday at a symposium, organised by social enterprise Silver Caregivers Cooperative, highlighted the need for such caregivers to have support structures from the community and family members.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Eric Chua, who was the guest of honour at the event, stressed the importance of self-care and added that some caregivers ignore this as they feel guilty in taking a break.
Citing a survey conducted by the National Council of Social Service in 2018 on the quality of life of caregivers, Mr Chua said that more than half of those surveyed had challenges coping. These caregivers usually had less financial resources or multiple people to look after.
“We need to inculcate a ‘care-titude’ – the theme of today’s symposium – through greater awareness and inclusive practices that support caregivers,” he said.
“We need caregivers to keep up their ‘care-titude’ – their motivation to care for their loved ones – by strengthening their support networks.”
At the event held at the Lifelong Learning Institute in Eunos, panellists discussed some of the challenges caregivers face, including having to help those they care for with their daily activities, such as dressing and feeding, managing their finances and keeping up with medical appointments.
The panellists also talked about coping strategies, such as the importance of self-care and sharing caregiving responsibilities between family members.
Adjunct Associate Professor Corinne Ghoh of the National University of Singapore’s department of social work stressed the importance of sharing responsibilities, giving an example of how in a family, one sibling can help to run errands while another can accompany the sick parent to medical appointments.
The panellists also highlighted resources for caregivers such as wheelchair-friendly transport services and the Home Caregiving Grant, which provides a monthly payout to reduce costs for those with moderate disability.
Initiatives on the wider level include the Caregiver Support Action Plan, launched by the Ministry of Health and partner agencies in 2019. Its schemes include a programme that supports caregivers of seniors with dementia who experience behavioural and sleep issues at night.
Mr Chua said: “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.”
Though Ms Koe’s husband is now more sensitive to loud noises and being touched after his stroke, she has since grown into her role as his main caregiver.
Ms Koe said: “It is not the end of the world, and I try my best to take care of my husband so that he knows that he is loved.”