This is a story that not many people are aware – the difficulties of caring for a loved one who is still mobile yet needs a certain amount of care and attention. It is a struggle to care for an older adult who is stubborn, prideful and wants to make their own decisions against the family’s well-meaning advice. My 83-year-old Ah Ma is mobile but she needs constant monitoring and care because she has high fall risk – yet she believes that she is still able to manage and often put herself in precarious situations where she might hurt herself.
For the last 20 years after my grandfather’s death, my maternal Ah Ma has been living with us. When I was younger, she was like a second mother to my brother and I. She would pick us home from school and tuition classes. She would cook, clean and help out around the house whenever she could. My Ah Ma used to be a gentle and soft spoken lady. Ah Ma was patient, loving and never raised her voice at us.
When your Life Revolves Around her Needs
After her fall in the middle of the night around 2-3 years ago, we tried our best not to leave her alone at home. My family had to arrange our schedules to ensure that she is not alone at home and that someone would be home to keep her company. Even though she is mobile and has recovered, she still needs constant care and monitoring to ensure that she does not fall again. My Ah Ma has grown to become extremely reliant on having someone with her at all time and requires our constant attention even at night to make sure she is safe. As she grew older, her behaviour has changed and she regressed to being child-like and became extremely dependent on others to guide her through her daily life.
She was no longer the quiet lady I knew
Emotional outbursts are common and life at home became extremely stressful and tiring. Sometimes, I feel like I am walking on eggshells at home. Her temperament started changing and she became extremely fussy and particular about the cleanliness around the house. She is obsessed with keeping the house neat and tidy according to her expectations and standards. Little things like the placement of the chopping board or the cup are dictated by her. She often put herself in precarious situations where she might fall – like playing with water in the bathroom or climbing up chairs and stools to reach for things in the cupboard.
“How many cups of rice?”
This question is repeated around 5 or 6 times a day. My Ah Ma has trouble gauging how many cups of rice she needs to cook for the family and she has issue cooking rice properly. The rice she cooks is either too mushy or too hard. Sometimes, she underestimates the amount of water needed to cook the rice and
Is it a Sign of Dementia?
She has been cooking for over 60 years but today, simple things like cooking rice or even a steam egg become difficult for her. Is this an early sign of dementia? This is the question we ask ourselves as her behaviour start to become eccentric. Getting a diagnosis from a doctor is nearly impossible because she does not want to go for a dementia checkup. She does not want to entertain the possibility of having dementia and she is too prideful to get a diagnosis.
How Did We Cope?
Despite my story sounding like a flurry of complaints, resentment and unhappiness, not every moment spent with her is bad. Essentially, I do not want to sugarcoat my experience caring for my Ah Ma because it is a tough and emotionally draining especially when it feels like you are alone on this journey with no one else to support you. As cliche as it sounds, I learnt to be more forgiving and patient while caring for my Ah Ma.
I realised that in the hecticness of our lives, at times we forget about our loved ones and neglect them. Spending time with my Ah Ma for the last 2- 3 years allows me to understand her better and know that she feels lonely at times and simply want to engage a conversation with us – just that she resorted to repetitions of questions or constant nagging to connect with us. Over the past few years, I learn how to be a better listener, make compromises and sacrifices. Jaga-Me has published a Care Guide on caring for a family member with Dementia which you may find useful.
For now, the journey forward will be challenging but I have learnt to be patient and accepting of her needs and to be there with her when she needs me.
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