Finance manager Tay Lian Choon, 53, provided care for her mother when the older woman developed heart problems in 2011, but her caregiving duties increased significantly from the start of this year when her mother's condition worsened.
About once a week, her 75-year-old mother would wake up in the middle of the night and complain of bodily discomfort, but even when pressed she would refuse to seek help at the hospital.
"I would stay with her, give her warm water, rub oil on her to make her feel better. Sometimes, she would vomit and I would stay up the whole night," says Ms Tay. "But I would still need to work the next day. There were times when I felt very helpless about the situation."
Although her four siblings helped out, they are all married and living with their families. Single, and living with her parents, Ms Tay took on the bulk of the caregiving duties.
In March this year, her 80-year-old father was diagnosed with prostate cancer and needed frequent radiotherapy sessions. And soon after, in May, her mother died.
"It was a very trying period for me and my dad," she says. "I felt like a zombie sometimes... but I just pressed on."
Stress is the No. 1 concern of those who seek out caregiving courses at Silver Caregivers Co-operative Limited (SCCL), said its treasurer and former chairman Audrey Lee.
There are now programmes where care receivers can be left with trained staff so caregivers can have a break.
In March this year, the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) started a new support group for people caring for their intellectually disabled adult siblings.
It is currently rolling out a programme where trained volunteers step in on behalf of caregivers of the intellectually disabled for several hours each week, giving the carers much needed respite.
In January next year, Minds will open its first before-and-after-school called the Special Students Care Centre at Woodlands Gardens School. So far, half of the 50 places for those aged seven to 18 have been filled, said a Minds spokesman.
In July, voluntary welfare group Awwa opened its second dementia daycare centre in Yishun. It has a daily capacity of 60 patients and currently has 16 clients. Awwa's first dementia daycare centre, in Ang Mo Kio, is operating at full capacity with 45 patients a day.
The Government has said another 1,200 daycare places for all care receivers will be added by 2020, to the 5,000 daycare places last year.
Options for caregivers of the elderly include respite care services at eldercare centres and nursing homes as well as daycare services.
Last month, the Government said it will continue to expand the integrated home and daycare scheme, which started about two years ago, and is now being offered by 15 senior care centres. Under this scheme, a senior can opt for a combination of care, such as going to a centre three days a week and getting home care on other days.
There are also training programmes for caregivers with courses offered at various organisations, of which many are approved for the Caregivers Training Grant (CTG) administered by the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC). The agency coordinates Singapore's long-term care services.
Caregivers can tap the annual $200 grant to attend approved training courses.
Last year, about 8,000 caregivers did so, up 15 per cent from 2013, says Mr Kelvin Lim, AIC's chief of senior support and carer services development division.
He adds that more than 200 courses are offered each year, and the topics covered range from day-to-day care and clinical skills, such as tube feeding, to communication skills and self-care.
While the cost of the CTG-approved courses ranges from $50 to more than $200, at least 80 per cent of them cost $200 or less and caregivers need only pay the $10 co-payment for these courses.
Such courses are very useful and some caregivers willingly pay for the course without taking up the grant, says Ms Lee.
At SCCL, about half of the course attendees do not use the grant.
"Some find it challenging to use the grant because the care recipient has to sign on it," she says.
"Their thinking is, 'How am I going to tell my father (or mother) that he's causing me stress?' "
Some caregivers do not attend courses simply because they have no time. SCCL is looking into getting trainers to go to caregivers' homes to conduct teaching sessions, says Ms Lee.
Another avenue for caregivers to manage their stress is to be part of a support group.
"As a caregiver, you tend to unintentionally cut off your social support... and you start to find that you're very closed up," says Ms Lee.
Some may feel that their care recipient is giving them more trouble compared to other care recipients.
"Sometimes, hearing about how others solve their issues can help you solve yours," says Ms Lee.
While Ms Tay is not part of a caregiver support group, she is keenly aware of the need to keep her spirits up in order to handle her caregiving duties well. This is especially as she has had to make sacrifices to accommodate her caregiving duties.
"This year, I have had to cancel three trips. I feel sorry for myself," she says.
She stays positive by connecting with friends at church, in particular, a fellow caregiver. She also tries to eat well and exercise.
It helps to share with people who can understand your caregiving journey and stresses, says Ms Lee, who is also a caregiver. Some years back, she was so stressed when faced with her mother's condition that she felt the urge to close down a business she was running and leave the country again.
"I was travelling 90 per cent of the time for 20 years as the head of audit for a multinational corporation. That was less stressful," she says.
She and her family took some time to accept her mother's dementia, which was diagnosed in 2010.
"She would suddenly say she doesn't know what to wear, or how to dress up, among other things. As a caregiver, you grieve over what's happening to the loved one who used to be dynamic," says Ms Lee.
Many caregivers feel lost as they are going through many emotional challenges, she adds.
"We tell them, the first thing is to care for yourself. If you don't care for yourself, how do you care for someone else?"
She advises those who are not yet caregivers to prepare for it.
"Anyone who is ageing will need a caregiver sooner or later... We believe that the more you prepare yourself, the easier it is for you to do caregiving," says Ms Lee.
"We want people to celebrate the caregiving journey... Just enjoy whatever time you have left so that you don't have any regrets."
Correction note: The article has been edited to say that half of the 50 places at Special Students Care Centre have been filled.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.