It is encouraging that the Health Ministry’s Agency for Integrated Care has recognised the need for caregivers to get some respite (“New scheme offers relief for caregivers”; last Thursday).
Caregiving is often a 24-hour job. A large proportion of caregivers give a lot of themselves because they view caring for their loved ones as their exclusive responsibility. Many also lose key social support when they give up their jobs to care for their loved ones, and the price they pay is often very high – financially, emotionally and physically.
Although allowing patients to take short stays in nursing homes will give some relief to caregivers, there will be some who will feel uncomfortable with this arrangement, as they might be worried that their loved ones will feel abandoned. This is especially so in the case of patients grappling with psychological issues, where emotional support from dedicated family caregivers plays a big part in maintaining their stability.
We need to offer more options to caregivers who are on a long and arduous journey.
The Government could build some respite centres in a few districts, where both patients and caregivers can relax in a conducive environment.
For instance, the Church of St Ignatius in Kings Road has a beautiful garden where retreats are held for parishioners. It is a perfect sanctuary for anyone who needs peace of mind. The Government could study this church to see how similar sanctuaries could be built for caregivers who need a home away from home.
In America, the non-profit organisation Family Caregiver Alliance offers a patient support programme – called Camp for Caring – that brings together patients suffering from conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke and other chronic conditions, for a weekend in the countryside. Being close to nature is very therapeutic. Each patient is assigned a volunteer who acts as a camp buddy.
Perhaps the Government could tie up with nearby countries to offer a similar programme for patients and their caregivers on an annual or biannual basis.
Raymond Anthony Fernando