It’s Chinese New Year But Elderly In Singapore Can’t Go Back
This is a common scenario of an elderly in Singapore: there was a certain Mr Ang in his late 70’s, who was admitted to the hospital. He was frail and required assistance for most of his activities of daily living due to a past stroke which left him paralysed on one side. His speech was slurred and vision was failing. He often refused help from the nurses and tried to manoeuvre on his own through his showers, explaining to me that he wanted to try to be independent for as long as he could.
“Try try lah. Might as well try while I still can.” He would say.
I was in awe of him and his strength and self-determination, because he never gave up.
Whenever we talked about family, he would wave his hands in the air.
“They’re busy lah.” He would chime. “They also have their own families.” He explained.
I nodded and laughed as he told me that though I did not understand it now, I would understand when I too, had my own family.
“Raising a family in the past was tough. But we try to stretch our dollar as much as possible.”
He opened up about how his wife was like as a person and how she cared for him for since his stroke.
“She’s a good woman.” He said. “I married right. Even though we were so young and I was unsure because I had so little money.”
He beamed with joy and told me that with Chinese New Year around the corner, he could not wait to Lou Hei with his family. He had been practicing with his spoon because using chopsticks was impossible given his condition.
He was looking forward to returning to enjoy his reunion dinner with his family and his grandchildren. Even though they were sometimes adverse to the way he looked as his stroke left him deconditioned on one side, they were still his pride and joy, no matter what the circumstance was
“I will speak to anyone who has patience to understand me. He sighed”
I figured it was difficult for him to find an audience as his slurred speech made comprehension challenging. Having someone interested in having conversation with him was probably the most dignified non-medical care you could give for him.
As the days towards Chinese New Year crept closer, I learnt that his family was not able to bring him back home. That meant that he had to stay in the hospital over the festive period. The revelation was equally as difficult for the family as it was emotional for him. I tried talking to him, but this time however, he was much more reserved.
I probed further but he remained quiet and did not respond. I asked him if he was ok to talk but he said he would rather not speak.
“When you’re angry you always say the wrong thing. Even if you don’t mean it.” He said.
Photo by Eepeng Cheong on Unsplash
Caregiving For Elderly in Singapore
Cases like Mr Ang are not uncommon. As much as we would like patients to be discharged back home to be with their family during Chinese New Year, there are many unforeseen circumstances that render this option challenging. Sometimes, families faced genuine struggles, while others faced outcome that subtly hint at poor relationships among members.
Singapore’s household size has drastically fallen over the years: in 2018, average household size has fallen to 3.24 as compared to 4.87 in the 1980. (Department of Statistic Singapore, 2019). What this means is that there are less people in a family able to provide care for people like Mr Ang. This will result in growing number of people, who are forced by medical and social reasons to be in institutionalised.
I am heartened that the Ministry of Health has started taking more progressive action and help for caregivers. For example, Caregivers will be able to tap on a new S$200 monthly grant to offset costs by the end of this year. However, though this may lighten financial burden for families, but issues surrounding social relationship are way more complex.
Circumstances due to medical reasons are pretty straightforward. But social aspects are much harder to work around because there are many variables in the family system, across past, present and future. The overreliance on family to provide caregiving burdened them inevitably, which often resurface past tension to light and/or invoke new ones. Of course, there will always be some who could reconstruct broken relationship. But there are also many who experienced deeper fracture in what’s left of a strained relationship.
I returned the next day with some paper to try to practice some writings with Mr Ang. I hoped that he would tell me how he was feeling.
Before I could get a word in, he turned to me and said,
“I know you don’t understand, but when you have a family of your own, then you will understand.”
Featured Photo by Alex Boyd on Unsplash
This article is contributed by Cally – a social worker who finds great joy in working with elderly.