Retiree Margaret Yeo is used to being woken up by her mother in the middle of the night.
The 92-year-old dementia sufferer would often ask her daughter - and carer for several decades - what they are doing the next day and what time they need to get up.
"Initially, I answered her questions," said Madam Yeo, 71, a former administrative officer. "After a while, I would just tell her, 'It's one o'clock now - time to sleep.'"
Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong announced last Wednesday that the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) will pilot a new night respite service at care homes for seniors with dementia who suffer from sleep and behavioural issues.
Although many details about the programme are still to be revealed, the initiative will see them take part in cognitive activities such as arts and craft and simple puzzles at night to help manage their behavioural and sleep issues, while their caregivers catch up on sleep.
The pilot is expected to start in the second half of this year.
"Caregiving can take its toll," Mr Tong told Parliament, adding that carers often suffer from a lack of sleep.
Madam Yeo shares a room with her mother, Madam Ng Guan Cheng, in her three-bedroom flat in Marine Parade, where they live with Madam Yeo's husband and her 40-year-old son.
Caring for her mother has become tougher since the older woman developed dementia. Madam Ng needs help with bathing and often requires a wheelchair to get around.
"Because of dementia, she sleeps very little," said Madam Yeo. "She also forgets the things she has done, or whom she has met. Immediately after a meal, she can't remember what she ate. Sometimes, she refuses to eat and we have to force her to eat."
Madam Yeo is afraid of leaving her mother alone in case she falls.
"Sometimes we see bruises on her, or she tells us that she hurt herself. But she cannot recall where she fell or what happened. That's why somebody must always be around. "
Madam Yeo also has to contend with her own dialysis sessions, which last four hours, three times a week - after which caring for her mother can be even more trying.
Madam Ng goes to a day care centre from 8am to 4pm on weekdays, where she takes part in simple exercises. But the centre does not operate at night.
Madam Yeo, who does not have space at home for a maid, believes the pilot scheme will be a big help, as long as the nursing home is nearby.
"If it's too far from my place, it would defeat the purpose because it would be inconvenient," she said.
In addition to the night respite options, Mr Tong also said a new pre-enrolment system will allow caregivers who may need respite services to register their loved ones and complete some of the administrative processes in advance, so that less activation time is required when the time comes to use those services.
St Luke's ElderCare will be one of the first healthcare providers to offer this programme, and aims to do so in the first quarter of this year.
Its chief executive, Dr Kenny Tan, said: "One of our aims is for enrolment turnaround time to be less than a week, when previously the process would be longer. With this service, we hope to introduce more flexibility as caregivers will be able to use the service on a more ad-hoc basis."
Madam Yeo, who has heard of cases of caregivers who suffer from burnout, emphasises the importance of self-care for caregivers. She said: "In order to give proper care to your loved ones, you need to look after yourself first. "
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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