And an inevitable part of growing old is the possibility of deteriorating health.
For some, this can turn into a long-drawn battle that lasts for years. Help may be needed to enable the sufferer to perform essential daily tasks, such as bathing, dressing and moving from one place to another. This could be after a person has a stroke or is fighting severe cancer and is unable to function completely without help. Common old age illnesses and diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia can also have vast consequences on the individual's capability to self-care.
…because of her emotional instability and the constant care required, we thought it would be better to seek professional help at a nursing home.
As such, long-term care – be it at home or in a care facility – becomes necessary. With well-meaning and loving family members to support them, they can have many fruitful years ahead of them, but the question of affordability also comes into play.
…each doctor's visit usually costs between $100 to $200.
We speak to two families about their experiences of caring for their elderly parents and the actual amounts spent.
…this does make me consider my own preparations for old age and whether I have enough savings if ever I need long-term care.
Nursing home versus at-home care
Mdm. Peck Hong Ngoh is a homemaker, aged 60, who is well within retirement age. Both her children are grown up with families of their own, yet she still has a responsibility towards her 91-year old mother, who is unwell.
"My mother suffers from dementia. She used to live with my father but after he passed away, she was on her own," shares Mdm. Peck. "She moved in with us and we hired a domestic helper to facilitate her day-to-day living requirements. But because of her emotional instability and the constant care required due to old age, we thought it would be better to seek professional help at a nursing home."
Mdm. Peck, who is unemployed, shares the monthly payments with her nine other siblings, which goes some way to alleviating the costs.
'The monthly fees for the nursing home we use is about $2,000 a month but there are subsidies provided by the government so it amounts to $700 a month," she says.
But nursing costs home may not be the only cost incurred for caregivers. 40-year-old wellness coach Ms. Kai Tan recalls that she spent as much as $6,000 in a month when her late father needed to be cared for.
"Dad had Parkinson's and was completely immobile," she explained. "He needed full aid to be fed, bathed and have his adult diapers changed."
Ms. Tan's father lived at home with the family, with a domestic helper to assist with the care. When he was semi-mobile, railings were installed in the home and a walking frame was purchased to aid his movements. He eventually grew weaker. The family acquired a wheelchair and had ramps put in to support him but at the last stages, he was bedridden, confined to a hospital bed placed at home.
He suffered from illness for over 10 years, until he passed away peacefully in 2013.
Ongoing medical intervention
Be it at home or in a nursing home, elderly who are sick require medical caregivers to attend to them regularly to advise next steps to family members as well as to monitor the care that's being given.
Sometimes, complications can occur due to the nature of the elderly's condition. When Ms. Tan's father became bedridden, he acquired a bedsore that soon became infected and needed extra care.
Mdm. Peck says that "each doctor's visit usually costs between $100 to $200".
Similarly, Ms. Tan had a registered medical nurse to come to her home and attend to her father about two or three times a week, depending on his needs. In addition, he was receiving several non-medical treatments that family members had hoped could aid in his recovery , such as speech therapy, TCM care, supplements and essential oils.
While Ms. Tan's father had basic hospitalisation insurance as well as some cash savings and retirement health benefits for having been a public officer, Mdm Peck's mother had nothing to contribute to the funds needed for her care.
"My mother didn't think to take out any sort of insurance for disability," confessed Mdm. Peck. "So the cost of her long-term care is shared amongst my siblings and me. This does make me consider my own preparations for old age and whether I have enough savings if ever I need long-term care."
What can insurance cover?
While we cannot fully control our health conditions, we can plan ahead when it comes to healthcare financing to ensure we can afford any care needed, without burdening our family members.
In Singapore, ElderShield is offered as part of a nation-wide scheme which provides a basic monthly payout to help minimise the out-of-pocket expenses for long-term care needed. All Singaporeans are automatically enrolled into the ElderShield scheme at the age of 40, but they can choose to opt out.
The current ElderShield scheme is designed to pay out $400 a month, up to 6 years, if an individual is certified to be severely disabled. This is defined by the inability to perform at least 3 out of 6 activities of daily living, without aid – bathing, dressing, feeding, toileting, mobility, and transferring (from bed to wheelchair for example).
Appointed ElderShield insurers, such as Aviva, also offer ElderShield Supplements which provides higher coverage by increasing the monthly payout, extending your payout period or a combination of both, for better peace of mind.