The Circuit Breaker imposed by the Singapore government has impacted our lives. For most of us, it brings along some inconveniences such as not being able to eat out, cut our hair, or of course, not being able to drink our beloved bubble tea. Most of us are also working from home after the closure of non-essential workplaces.
However, those who have been impacted most are healthcare workers, having to work overtime to treat the thousands of infected patients. For caregivers at home, it is no different.
Danny Tan, Daniel Lim, and Richard Ashworth (from left in above image) share their experiences of caring for their elderly parents during this period, and the obstacles they face. All three of them are taking care of their parents who are diagnosed with dementia.
Daily routines disrupted
“Dad would usually go down to the community club to sing and meet with fellow elders just to chat and engage with social interaction,” says Daniel, 39. He takes care of his 81-year-old father. “This had to stop. Relatives who used to visit weekly no longer can. There are inconveniences but these we know will come to pass,” added Daniel.
Danny, 53, and Richard, 66, also face similar issues. Danny’s 87-year-old mother can no longer socialise with the neighbourhood aunties below their block, while Richard cannot bring his father, also 87, to the garden beneath their condominium every morning.
“He gets very edgy because nowadays it is only from bedroom to the living room, living room to the bedroom and he becomes very agitated every day and then starts screaming and shouting,” says Richard. “He keeps on asking me the same questions: ‘What is the virus?’, ‘what is the problem?’ He just doesn’t seem to understand the situation.”
Dementia adds to the problem of being cooped up at home, and makes it more difficult to care for them.
“Dad has been living with dementia for the last 11 years now,” says Daniel. “He started to exhibit sleep reversals where he heads to bed at sunrise and wakes up when the sun sets. He also turns more aggressive and uses foul language on mum and myself when he doesn’t get what he wants, frustration level is high, he would verbally abuse us, but we know it is not him, because he usually isn’t like this.”
Richard also faces problems with his father, made even worse by his father’s skin cancer. He admits the frustration and stress experienced would often have a heavy impact on his emotions.
Coping with the Circuit Breaker
They have, however, found ways to cope with the situation best they can. Danny and Daniel have both found that cooking can help their parents with remaining inside and preventing cabin fever. For Richard, he has taught his father how to video conference with relatives.
“The advantage is I can now observe my father 24/7 and also tend to him when the needs arise and help my mum (she is a cancer survivor) out,” says Daniel. “We can enjoy our meals as a family, promising them both that I will have breakfast, lunch and dinner together.”
Danny has also found ways to make the best of staying at home. “We have breakfast and coffee at the corridor, next to our lush planting, in the morning,” He says. “I wheel my mother out there and sit with her, pretending we are in Botanic Gardens and play Spa Music with nature sounds on my mobile. This creates a very nice ambience that is calm and relaxing.”
Advice for others
Many others are facing similar situations at home, and some may have it even worse. However, coping can be made a little easier with some advice.
“Try gardening and cooking together. It helps with bonding and especially cooking, it will trigger memories, especially when traditional recipes are used for cooking food that are familiar,” says Danny. “Watching TV shows of yester years is also a good avenue to entertain and bring them back to their younger days.”
Daniel and Richard both agree that patience is the most important thing during this time. “Patience is key, saying it is easy but doing it, is not. You are not alone in this journey of caregiving,” says Daniel. “It is absolutely alright to say I cannot take it anymore. In this situation, self-care is crucial. After all, we are humans too and we have emotions and emotions have limits.”
Richard recalls an old saying in Madarin: “You must have confidence. You must have a passion, love for the loved one that you care for. Lastly, you must have patience.”
Can more be done?
While they agree that the government is doing the best they can, they feel that more can be done for dementia patients during this crisis.
“It is hard to imagine what social isolation would mean for seniors who live alone and have existing conditions such as dementia. They cannot understand why they cannot go out,” says Daniel. “The government has provided subsidies on many levels and this has greatly reduced stress on physical needs. However, the mental and emotional needs should be looked at as well.”