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Remember Me
30 June 2022

It is never easy witnessing a loved one deteriorate mentally and physically as they approach the end of life. But finding meaning in the situation, and recognising that one’s sense of self is still rooted deep within, may bring some comfort.

By Paul Bashyam, HCA Medical Social Worker

In Singapore, an estimated one in every 10 people aged 60 and above has dementia. For each person living with dementia, every day can be a struggle – not just for them but also for their loved ones living with, or taking care of them.

Dementia often starts off with mild symptoms, such as forgetting names, losing the house keys and can often go undetected or brushed off. As time goes by, symptoms worsen and the loved one with dementia may become suspicious of others, get lost or become disorientated in familiar places, and even begin to require assistance with activities of daily living. In some cases, he or she may have behavioural issues, such as night and day reversal, shouting without reason and even exhibit aggressive behaviour.

The journey of caring for someone with dementia can be both rewarding and meaningful but also tiring and frustrating. For instance, Mr Michael* shared about his journey of caring for his elderly mother, who was diagnosed with dementia. He had cared for her for almost 10 years and even resigned from his job two years ago to be her fulltime caregiver.

He recounts how he felt overwhelmed as sometimes his mother would not be able to communicate what she wanted and get angry as a result. She also began to sleep in the day and become active at night, further complicating matters. At times, Mr Michael even considered placing his mother in a nursing home, but after much contemplation, he was able to make meaning out of the situation, that taking care of his mother was the least he could do in return for all the sacrifices she had made bringing him up. After Mr Michael’s mother passed away, he felt he had no regrets even though the journey was tough, as the fulfilment overshadowed the hardships. As a religious person, Mr Michael felt that God knew he was tough enough to handle the caregiving journey and sees it as a gift.

As I was listening to Mr Michael recount his story, I could not help but wonder: do we lose ourselves when we lose our memories? Are we really nobody without our memories? Perhaps it is not that we become nobody; instead we experience the world differently, for our sense of self is rooted deep within us. Much like a car that is not functioning properly, the sense of self is akin to the driver still being in the driver’s seat, but the car is not responding properly to the driver’s input.

Pacing it Out

It can be incredibly difficult to care for someone who no longer seems to be the person he or she was. Here are some tips that may be helpful:

  • It’s a marathon, not a sprint – make both long-term and short-term plans, pace yourself, do not rush to do everything within the short term
  • Seek help if needed – build your support network (for example, friends and family), and even consider engaging professional help, such as private nurses
  • Make a routine and schedule – create a regular routine so that both you and your loved one can get used to it; remember to schedule breaks and rest time

*not his real name