By 2020, one in four Singaporeans will be aged 65 years and above. Shrinking family sizes means that our old-age support ratio will also reduce from 4.8 in 2018 to an estimated 2.7 in 2030. With fewer family members assisting with caregiving, family caregivers will have to look to community support. Apart from organisations, local caregivers are an invaluable resource for care. Possessing awareness of our cultural practices and social norms, and equipped with the caregiving know-how, they will play a crucial role in shaping how we age.
The Difference Local Caregivers Make
A city with a melting pot of cultures, Singapore is home to many races, cultures and religion. Though united as one, each racial group has distinctive characteristics from languages spoken and dialects used to various cultural practices. When care is needed, local caregivers who have a keen understanding of these differences can rise up and provide the care that is needed.
In healthcare, communication is just as important as technical competence. Caregivers not only help with physical and medical needs, but also provide emotional support. When language is not a barrier, caregiving becomes much more intimate and personal to the one receiving it.
This is especially so when we are caring for someone with dementia. A vital part of dementia caregiving is mental engagement, which can help in slowing the condition’s progression. With dementia, cognitive decline might cause the individual to only retain recognition of their native language(s). Thus, having a caregiver who speaks the common tongue will better facilitate communications, allowing both caregiver and recipient to build tighter rapport.
In the same vein, we appreciate when others understand our cultural norms and practices. This applies for caregiving and generally places local caregivers in a better position to navigate and provide the right assistance.
For instance, having an understanding of the dietary restrictions of a particular religion and preparing a suitable meal in response would impact the care quality.
Apart from race and religion, our common experiences living on this little red dot brings us together. When language is not a barrier, matching a caregiver and senior of different races or religions can still work perfectly, as these experiences foster a stronger sense of familiarity and allow them to better relate to each other.
Reliance on Foreign Domestic Workers
Caregiving has typically been viewed as an informal profession or a role left in the hands of foreign domestic workers (FDWs).
However, according to Walter Theseira, Associate Professor of Economics at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, having maids in most middle-class households is not sustainable in the long run. The countries where our FDWs are from are growing economically. In the near future, they might not perceive Singapore as an attractive work destination, leading to a potential shortage of help available.
The cost of hiring FDWs is also likely to rise in the coming years, making it harder for families to sustain having such help over a prolonged period. In the face of these circumstances, the presence and availability of local professional caregivers become vital for the continuity of care.
Changing Family Dynamics
It is no secret that our seniors wish to age in the company and care of those who love them most. Traditionally, family members would take on the duty of caregiving to support them in ageing at home. However, with longer life spans and low birth rates, the dependency ratio is dwindling.
With caregiving duties spread across fewer family members, it becomes increasingly taxing for them to take on these duties by themselves. This is where the community steps in to lend their support in enabling our seniors to age-in-place.
Mr Edwin Tong, Senior Minister of State for Health, mentioned in a speech about “the need for a whole-of-society effort to help seniors age with purpose and dignity”. He also affirmed the critical role that caregivers play in achieving this, so that our seniors can better age-in-place. Indeed, the role of caregiving no longer falls just on family members.
Governmental and voluntary welfare organisations such as Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) and TOUCH Community Services are avenues where families can seek support to better manage the care of their loved ones while balancing other commitments.
Local caregivers who are trained and certified can also help in many aspects of senior care. By raising awareness on the caregiving profession, more would hopefully join this vocation to create a pool of professionally trained locals who can readily extend caregiving support to families in need. When the duty of caregiving is shared amongst many, it will become lighter for all.
Caring for More in the Community
We all have the power to make an impact on our seniors’ lives. In the face of the changing caregiving landscape, it is important and urgent for us to build a local pool of professional caregivers. We hope that more locals will be inspired to take action and be a change-maker, so that our seniors can age in place with dignity, comfort and safety.