Singapore needs to review elderly institutional care



SINGAPORE - The Government is ramping up care-giving facilities for the elderly, including those with dementia, as Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing yesterday cited the need for the country to consider new models of institutional care - despite the taboo surrounding it.

Speaking at the opening of a conference organised by the Centre for Enabled Living (CEL), Mr Chan said: "We know that in the Asian context and culturally, we frown upon moving into institutional care. We think that it is against our values of filial piety to put your parents in the institutional home."

He added: "However, in time to come, there might be a group of people without the necessary family support and their extended family will have to be redefined ... not by their children, but by their friends and the new networks they build up. They can enjoy their later years with dignity and pride when they learn to take care of themselves, and help one another in the community."

An example of community care is the Seniors Service Centre pilot project at the Golden Jasmine Studio Apartments in Bishan.

Declaring the pilot project a success, Mr Chan said his ministry has awarded tenders for three more Seniors Service Centres in Kang Ching Road, Strathmore Avenue and Ang Mo Kio Avenue, which are expected to open by March next year.

Under this model, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) works with the Ministry of National Development (MND) and HDB to "build flats in the precinct, whereby all the elderly needs can be catered for".

Said Mr Chan: "It could be the design of the flats, to the types of social services that are available at the void deck. This is a self-contained community, for elderly to provide emotional support to one another. At the same time, you have a community with access to the services they may need."


A future concern: Singles in their 40s

Mr Chan also announced that all MCYS-funded day care centres will be dementia-friendly. To date, there are about 20,000 Singapore residents aged 60 and above diagnosed with dementia. "In time to come, the numbers will continue to grow," Mr Chan noted.

Mr Chan reiterated that Singapore has to "review the way we provide care for the elderly" with people living longer and having small families.

He pointed out that a typical story of an elderly he meets during home visits is how the elderly is living alone and his children do not visit often because they are in their 50s and having health problems.

"Something has changed. In the past, we say the young take care of the old... but because everybody is living longer now, you meet many people who are in their 80s and their children are perhaps is in their late 50s or even 60s. So you have the old taking care of the very old," Mr Chan said.

Then, there are elderly Singaporeans who have brought up successful children working overseas and are now living alone. Mr Chan also identified a "future group of the elderly single" - those who are in their 40s now and are single. Said Mr Chan: "They are happy with their lifestyle now... what worries me is that in 20 or 30 years' time, what will happen to them? If you look at it today, perhaps up to 30 per cent of the cohort will not get married in their lifetime."

To improve home care for the elderly, Mr Chan said more Singaporeans should acquire caregiver skills before their parents fall sick.

But as "the attention span is very short for the young generation, the question is how to package bite size information to reach out to more people," said Mr Chan. He suggested using the new media and creating one-minute YouTube videos on caregiving.