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Working tirelessly from morning till night is no easy feat. From the skillsets needed as a caregiver to caring for yourself as a caregiver, Dr Kalyani Mehta from the Silver Caregivers Co-operative Limited (SCCL) shares tips on how to become the best version of yourself as a caregiver.

 

Know the ABCs to Caregiving.

 

A Bit More about Dr Mehta and Social Work

 

Dr Mehta is a Professor in Social Work at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). Upon graduating from the National University of Singapore (NUS) with a Bachelor degree in Social Work, she worked with children. What inspired her to start a journey in social work? Her mother – a selfless and compassionate individual – was her source of aspiration. Whenever her mother received a call for assistance, she would immediately stop what she was doing to help the people in her community.

 

The avid gerontologist also believes in the importance of self-awareness. To become a social worker, not only must we have a heart, we must also be cognizant about our biases, prejudices and our emotional baggage to avoid transference. Transference refers to the redirection of feelings about a specific person onto someone else. When you had the same pain experience as your care recipient, will you be able to help without reliving your pain? Training to be self-aware of our prejudices, emotions and to overcome barriers is thus very important if you want to be a social worker. After all, we need to look from our care recipients’ perspective, understand their needs and find ways to help them.

It is this belief that keeps Dr Mehta going. She enjoys helping people, and believes that as a human, we have the opportunity to be of use to society and contribute to it. To excel in this area, continuous education and to learn and grow on the job are equally important.

Public’s perception of social work has improved tremendously over the years. Global phenomena such as global migration, overpopulation and working across borders have contributed to a diverse yet complex society which have helped raise awareness of our now multifaceted social problems. This is where social workers come in and help the people in need. Even for caregiving to elderly in an ageing population, we must attend to their (different) set of needs, otherwise our families and our intergenerational relations may suffer.

 

Is there a difference between the expectations of social work versus reality?  

The intent behind joining the field of social work is usually sincere and honourable. Dr Mehta recalled some slight differences in her “Expectations vs Reality” after officially joining the society as a social worker upon graduation. During her practicum stints, she worked with children with special needs, girls in moral danger and at a boys’ home. She cited that the course practicums uncover more of reality and require knowledge application.

Her first job was a school counsellor to primary and lower secondary students attending the Anglican Church. Even armed with her degree, she felt that there was so much more to learn about the children which further sparked her passion for continuous learning and caring for people.

One advice to those who continuously invest in work is to align your passion with your work. When you have a passion and purpose, it fulfils your life and work will not appear burdensome. It is a joy to love your work and to enjoy what you do. The first step is to ask yourself what your purpose is and what you would like to achieve. Think big and visualise your future.

A specialist in gerontology, Dr Mehta expects a growing silver industry in the future in tandem with our ageing population. Family structures will change, such as in the aspects of elongation (i.e. have living great- or even great-great-grandparents), family responsibilities and caretaking. It presents new opportunities. However, the percentage of elderly will shift downwards demographically after it passes a certain point.

 

Sharing experience as a caregiver

Everyone’s caregiving journey may vary in extent and experiences. Some may be more fortunate such as having the support of helpers or siblings, while others may be left to take on their caregiving journey alone. If a caregiver is not given sufficient resources and support, caregiving may take a toll on him/her.

 Even as a trained social worker, Dr Mehta was under a lot of stress as she had to juggle between caregiving for her parents-in-law and work. There is a gap between caregivers’ needs and the societal resources. Some need more help in meeting certain needs like physical help, while others may require emotional support and encouragement to carry on their journey.

Therefore, in 2013, Dr Mehta together with other members established SCCL with the aim to provide mutual help for the caregivers.

 

Behind the scenes of Caregiving

 

As a caregiver, you may experience various emotions at different times like the joy and satisfaction of caring for your parents or for the person you love. Many parents all over the world have made sacrifices for their children in their own ways. Even if they have dementia and begin to lose their memories of you as they age, many parents simply want your love and time.

 

“As I Grew Up, You Cared for Me. As You Grow Old, I Care for You.”

 

One hard truth about caregiving is that it requires a lot of time and energy, which could send one into physical and/or mental exhaustion. The culmination of worry for the care recipient (especially if they are diagnosed with insomnia or terminal illness), coupled with one’s workload and caregiving for the recipient at night could lead to pent-up fatigue, stress and conflicting thoughts.

Dr Mehta pointed out that when caregivers do not care for themselves enough, they are at risk of falling into social isolation and depression. When one does not have the time and/or the capacity to stay connected with the world through interaction with neighbours, friends or even family members who may be living elsewhere, one will feel isolated and alone which carries a health risk of the early death for the caregiver.

 

Take on the Struggle: “I want to be filial, but work is also important to sustain my family financially.”

As a (young) professional living in a world with ever-evolving technology and exciting offerings, you may be faced with competing commitments such as work, travel, and caring for your family members. It is also a challenge to live in the sandwich generation. Simply put, you may have to take care of your parents, your children and yourself.

To put things into perspective, caregiving need not be just caring for one person, because you may be caring for different people sequentially people over the years.

 Dr Mehta shared her heartfelt experience of caring for her parents-in-law. She had just landed a job as a lecturer after being a stay-at-home mother. To better support her in meeting the caregiving and work commitments as well as to do his part to care for his parents, her husband opted to semi-retire as it comes with a flexible work schedule.

It was a tripartite team consisting of her husband, her helper and herself. With dedication, support and co-ordination, they took turns to care for her elderly parents-in-law. “When a parent has passed on, the other parent may feel lonely due to the loss of the spouse’s company. As their children, we should provide some love and a listening ear.”

She also shared that there are individuals in society who have taken on the role of caregiving for decades. It is due to taking care of parents, parents-in-law and finally of their spouse.

To quote Dr Mehta, “when you believe that the caregiving work you do is important and when you are able to fulfil your purpose of caring for your care recipient, your inner energy will rejuvenate and keep you going. When it is your turn to need care, someone will care for you. This is the cycle of caregiving.”

 

What are the skillsets needed as a caregiver?

It depends on what the care recipient is facing and the extent of his/her needs.

For example, at different stages of dementia, the care recipient will have a different level of dependence and capabilities. Therefore, the skillsets that one needs as a caregiver will range from doing simpler tasks such as retrieving “misplaced” items for your care recipient to helping him/her with activities of daily living.

Another important skillset to have is to take care of oneself as a caregiver. SCCL shares more below.

 

Caregiving with SCCL

 

The role of caregiving may fall on you at any point in your life. If you feel that you are less prepared to care for your care recipient in areas including special needs, kidney dialysis or advanced illnesses such as stage 3 cancer, you can seek assistance from SCCL.

 

More about SCCL

The Silver Caregivers Co-operative Limited (SCCL) is a co-operative that hopes to better the quality of life of caregivers through workshops, courses, and talks, as well as to become a one-stop centre of information in their caregiving roles in Singapore. SCCL is currently one of the few training providers focussing on Psycho-social courses for caregivers. To contact SCCL, just email to admin@silvercaregivers.org.sg or leave a WhatsApp message at 98303165.

Family caregivers are the backbone in an ageing society. In our Asian culture, filial piety is important. We should show appreciation towards our elders for their contributions. If family members can balance working, caring and doing the other roles they have to perform, we are able to let the elderly age happily and in dignity, where they could show their love by preparing meals for the family and interacting with grandchildren.

About Psycho-Social Skills

“Pyscho-social skills are more than just nursing skills”, Dr Mehta stressed. These skills could be of a major use to diffuse the tension where there are arguments between a parent and a child, stress at work, and in coping with the challenging act of juggling commitments.

It also includes empathy. Empathy is a big word in caregiving. Empathy includes understanding what the person is going through and learning about their likes and dislikes. With your heart and your hands, you can alleviate some pain from another’s sufferings.

 About Stress Management

Another important workshop which SCCL offers is ‘Stress Management’. Stress management is instrumental for one’s mental and physical well-being. Feelings such as guilt, care, worry and anxiety could raise one’s blood pressure, and it is important to stay healthy and to keep his/her blood pressure at a healthy level.

 

One Interesting Fact About Dementia

There are many types of dementia, including vascular dementia. When we have high blood pressure and experience mini strokes often, certain brain cells which are linked to our memories die. Vascular dementia may develop over time as a result of the death of these brain cells.

 

How can a caregiver care for himself/herself?

 

SCCL recommends caregivers to practise self-care, have a hobby, and look at things at a broader perspective.

 

1. Self-care

Dr Mehta greatly emphasises on self-care. These are some helpful reminders to ensure proper self-care:

  1. Regulate food intake
  2. Sufficient sleep
  3. Have a fixed routine
  4. Learn to be patient
  5. Spend at least 5 minutes alone to heal

 

Source: My Healthy Plate

 

Having sufficient nutritious food and sleep are important. These are vital to keep you energetic and healthy. Over the years, she has heard of cases where caregivers suffered from various problems such as gastric issues and mental issues. We recommend following My Healthy Plate.

To combat the lack of food and sleep along with time constraints, it is important to fix a routine. When you have a fixed routine, your family members or care recipient will be more accustomed to when to eat and sleep. In addition, you may feel that you are more in control of your time.

Even in your busy day, just 5 minutes of ‘me’ time (like having music on or on a walk) is important to relax, heal and re-energise yourself.

 

2. Having a hobby that makes you happy

Having a hobby is important so that you can remain in touch with yourself and the world, beyond caring for your care recipient. Hobbies such as listening to music or doing yoga could also help to relieve stress and invoke happiness.

A suggestion by Psycentral is to listen to music such as classical or meditation music as it helps to slow down our pulse and heart rate, which in turn helps lower the blood pressure and decrease the levels of stress hormones.

 

3. Look at things in a broader perspective

When you put things into perspective, you may begin to see the bigger picture as to why your care recipient does certain things. As Dr Mehta puts it, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

 

Could I motivate my care recipient to help himself/herself too?

If you want to motivate your care recipient, you may want to look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs framework.

Your care recipient may have unmet needs which could lead him/her to develop a sense of insecurity, or even feel useless, helpless or unloved.

You can take steps to observe and identify what he/she needs and help him/her to address that. For example, if your care recipient is bed bound, he/she may feel lonely as he/she is staring at the ceiling all the time. Spend some time listening to him/her. Sharing more about family, the world, and current happenings could keep him/her connected.

 

Once these needs are met, you could begin to offer encouragements to him/her by giving him/her small tasks to do which will help him/her to reach self-actualisation.

 

Are there upcoming sharing sessions from SCCL which I could join? 

Recently, SCCL invited Mr Tony Lim from Love Empowered Co-operative as a guest speaker to share about love & care of people with special needs. Check out their tea session schedule here.

 

The team behind the Caregivers Celebration Dinner 2015 with the Guest-of-Honour, President of Republic of Singapore Halimah Yacob.

 


Wondering how you could do your part? 

Make caregiving a shared responsibility. Even if you live apart, you and your family could visit them often and share a meal together. You could also (video) call them and talk to them about school, work or life in general.

 

Source: Felicia of Gov.sg who is a freelance fitness instructor at Senior Activity Centre, having a WhatsApp Video Call with the seniors during the Circuit Breaker.

 

There is a saying that goes, “Take care of yourself before taking care of others.” As a caregiver it is even significant to take care of yourself so that you can continue to take care of your care recipients. Wondering whom you can look for support as a caregiver? You can reach out to SCCL to join a support group who can understand what you are going through and gain knowledge on how you can take care of yourself through the workshops too.

If you are looking for some inner strengths or motivations to continue, recall some of the sacrifices your parents (or grandparents) may have made for you. If they were willing to wake up in the middle of the night to our cries as a child and still manage to put in all their blood, sweat and tears at work to support the family, we can do it too.

 


This article is brought to you by Denise Ong. Denise is a second-year undergraduate at the NUS Business School. She is currently interning with SNCF in the Marketing Department. She is experimenting with designing on Canva and Photoshop, and enjoys playing volleyball in her free time.

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