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Study Finds That Family Caregivers of Singapore Elderly Who Rely on Foreign Domestic Workers Fare Better

June 10, 2013

As the elderly population of Singapore rises at a rapid pace, so does the use of foreign domestic workers as care providers.  Researchers from Duke-National University of Singapore and the Duke Global Health Institute have found that 50 percent of disabled elderly in Singapore receive some level of support and caregiving from live-in foreign domestic workers. The study, published this week in The Journals of Gerontology is the first of its kind to document the role and impact of foreign domestic workers in the caregiving of the elderly in Singapore.

The study, led by Truls Østbye at the Duke Global Health Institute and Rahul Malhotra at Duke-National University of Singapore, found that family caregivers who  receive support from a foreign domestic worker report more control over their daily schedule, better health, a stronger financial situation and more family support. Foreign domestic workers are mostly women from Indonesia, the Philippines and other nearby lower-income countries.

Given Singapore’s rapidly aging population and limited use of institutional long term care facilities, the number of live-in foreign domestic workers is likely to increase as families try to cope with caregiving for their older members.

Study findings highlight the need for more affordable long-term care options for elderly persons in Singapore; the need for more health and safety training for foreign domestic workers; and the need for immigration policies to accommodate the increasing number of foreign elder caregivers in Singapore.

“Our study highlights the important role foreign domestic workers play in reducing the negative impacts of caregiving on the family,” said Ostbye. “However, it is also important to assess how providing care might impact the health and welfare of foreign domestic workers and their families.”

“While support from foreign domestic workers mostly benefits family caregivers, it is interesting that caregivers with such support report lower self-esteem compared to caregivers without such support,” said Malhotra. “This is not surprising given the Singapore tradition and societal expectation that family members be primary caregivers for the elderly.”

The research, based on data from a survey commissioned by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, Singapore, was funded by an A*STAR infrastructure grant to the Duke-NUS Program in Health Services and Systems Research, and a grant from the Tsao Foundation, Singapore.

Singapore family

Study findings highlight the need for more affordable long-term care options for elderly persons in Singapore.

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