A little care for silver caregivers
To address a growing pool of caregivers looking after their ageing parents, a cooperative has been set up to give them much-needed support.
BY: Eleanor Yap
With people living longer, there will be a growing number of caregivers who will be caring for their ageing parents. Not only that, but they too will be ageing. There will also be growing pressures on those who are the only child in the family or a child who is single, who will have to take on the caregiving role by themselves, which could lead to burnout.
Ageless Online finds out more about these caregiving issues and what a cooperative called Silver Caregivers Co-operative Ltd (SCCL) is planning to do, from its chairman, Dr Kalyani Mehta. Dr Mehta is also an associate professor at UniSIM and heads the Master of Gerontology programme there:
When did the organisation start and why champion the cause of caregivers? Are there not organisations already addressing the needs of caregivers?
We got incorporated in 2013. We acknowledge that there are some existing organisations that address the needs of caregivers in Singapore, but SCCL focuses on silver caregivers i.e. caregivers of elderly. It is important that this group be given more attention due to the fast ageing population.
Why a cooperative model than say a non-profit?
We chose the cooperative model and not a charity route because we want caregivers from all walks of life and income groups to join us. Also, cooperatives emphasise cooperation, mutual support and sustainability. This gives self-dignity and caregivers have a place to be trained, informed and learn to empower themselves.
How many members do you have?
We have about 68 members (past and present caregivers, as well as people who expect to become caregivers, for example, for their aged parents) and we hope to add 60 to 80 more over the next year. Membership starts from a one-off payment of S$50 for one share and an admin fee of S$10. The criteria is that the caregiver has to be 21 and above and caring for a senior who is 50 and above.
Unmarried, single women tend to represent a growing group of caregivers. What support do you as an organisation provide to them specifically?
Many of the issues that unmarried, single women face are much the same as if the woman is married or divorced such as caregiver burnout and financial stress. The main difference is that with a married woman, the husband can share the burden and the growing children can support in terms of respite and other ways. However, with a single woman, she has to carry the responsibility of caregiving all on her own. Her siblings would say she is the best person to take on the role and therefore, becomes the caregiver by default.
SCCL can assist them so they won’t feel so alone in their caregiving journey. We offer four ways to do this. First is intellectual – giving information about policies, programmes, etc, for the caregivers and seniors. Second is social support such as networking. Third is practical support such as giving opportunities for skills training. We are planning to start a programme next year for new caregivers where we will match them to ex-caregivers (someone who was caregiving before and not caregiving now) so they can buddy with them and the ex-caregiver can transfer knowledge.
Lastly, we offer emotional support such as our recreational activities and monthly tea sessions so caregivers can gain support from each other. During our celebration dinner, we will be giving out a booklet which will have a collection of stories of caregivers, which caregivers themselves will find both healing and therapeutic. For those who can’t be there, we will also be selling the booklets at an affordable price.
What are some other issues affecting caregivers that people who are non-caregivers don’t know?
Non-caregivers cannot comprehend the cumulative stress that happens in the life of a caregiver. Today something happens and before you can get over it, something else happens tomorrow. This is on top of other responsibilities such as work, etc, that can take a toll on the health of a caregiver. The cumulation is what I hope people will understand. Caregivers may have a breakdown and it is important people around them see the signs and give them a break. Regular breaks are so important to caregivers so they don’t lash out and make a situation even worse.
There is also the issue of finances. Medical expenses can build up and if the senior does not have enough resources, the children have to meet it. One woman I spoke to ended up looking after her parents and is now looking after her husband’s parents for over 15 years. She can’t have a full-time job as she needs to bring them to appointments, etc. She needs to have income for herself so she is doing tuition and has to adjust her hours to fit her caregiver role. Non-caregivers can’t understand all this.
Also, there is opportunity costs. If you are single and caregiving, you may not be able to socialise much, get married or even take on a job. I hope people can understand that we need to be a little more caring for caregivers.
I noticed on your website you also have affiliates like Wheels on Wheels. Will you be adding more affiliates?
They are considered our partners and have a similar philosophy with us in terms of caring about caregivers. We will add more as we go along. We do not want to reinvent the wheel and we can refer people to them and they can refer people to us.
What challenges are you facing as an organisation?
We have issues such as funding, manpower constraints, and reaching out to all categories of silver caregivers. We have to strategise our efforts and reach out to the smaller minority groups as well. However, language issues prevent SCCL to reach out to the latter.
So how are you dealing with funding?
We won the 14th Start-up @ Singapore Social Venture (Open Category) in 2013 and we managed to secure a funding grant from the Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF).
We also have some revenue streams which we intend to launch gradually. We currently offer health screening packages, workplace health programmes, talks and yoga sessions. Also, earlier this year, Helen Ko, the executive director of Beyond Age and I launched a book called “Gerontological Counselling”, a trainer’s guide to counselling elders and their family members from Asian backgrounds. The launch also allowed us to share our vision and mission which is to care for caregivers.
What is your current focus?
We are organising our inaugural Caregivers Celebration Dinner on October 28 at Orchard Hotel. There will be an exciting programme, information booths, awards for special extraordinary family caregivers, to be in tandem with the spirit of SG50. We hope to increase awareness of the importance and sacrifices made by caregivers, and at the same time raise some money for the services and products we wish to launch to benefit caregivers. After that, we will be having an informal tea session on November 13 where an IMH consultant will talk about social emotional issues faced by caregivers.
(** PHOTOS: Silver Caregivers Co-operative Ltd)