Having the option of a caregiver for their elderly mum is a blessing for healthcare professionals Patzy, and her husband, Jack, who live in Australia.
When Jack’s 73-year-old mother, Madam Lee, became depressed and unable to self-care, her family were very concerned.
Madam Lee was living with her daughter – Jack’s younger sister – Rachael and her husband, Michael, and their three young children, in Ipoh. Both of them were busy running a business and weren’t able to accompany her 24-7.
“Mum used to be very independent when she was younger – she ran a drinks stall and packed incense sticks at home to raise her children all by herself,” says Jack.
“Because we live and work overseas, we only get to see her once every three to four years when we return to Malaysia,” adds Patzy.
“We finally had to consider the option of hiring a care helper for her. My sister Rachael and I felt we needed extra help to check in on mum to ensure her physical and emotional well-being. We couldn’t let her be alone at home while we were working/away.
“The nurse would organise mum’s medication, ensure she takes it, and inform us when the supply runs low. She would also advise if mum was unwell and needed to see the doctor,” says Jack, adding that it wasn’t easy to find a good care provider that could care for her physical health as well as her mental and emotional state.
“But we found someone we could liase with easily, despite being far away in Australia,” he says.
Dealing with dementia
Human resources professional Pauline is married and lives in Kuala Lumpur with her husband. When her 87-year-old mother in Penang was diagnosed with dementia, Pauline became very worried.
“My mum is a retired government nurse and a very independent, strong-willed person. She loved to travel when she was young and has been to many countries. So it wasn’t easy for her because she didn’t like being limited or ‘looked down on’,” says Pauline.
“She started having dementia two years ago. Her condition worsened during the Covid-19 lockdown because her movement was limited, She also started experiencing memory loss. Being the independent person she was, she didn’t want to go to a home for the aged. She wanted to continue living at home,” she says.
“But we were worried she would forget to eat, shower and become depressed. I wanted for her to be in the comfort of a familiar environment with space for her to move around and not be confined to a room or bed like in a home for the aged,” she adds.
Pauline says that she didn’t get to see her mother often during the MCOs due to the borders being closed. They had to “survive” on just phone calls.
Now, she visits her mother at least once every two months, in Penang.
“A person like my mum needs social interaction, cognitive retention and light physical activities. We had no choice but to look for care services in Penang for her. The main criteria was it has to be affordable, reliable and accessible.
“The care services provider that I chose was flexible enough to cater to our unconventional requests. They got my mum to do journalling, play games, interact, sing, and assisted her so that she could enjoy her food, pay her bills and take her medication, as well as go out for walks and drives, instead of being cooped up within four walls,” says Pauline.
Though she lived in KL, she could track her mum’s progress via the care services provider’s app. She could read their reports, as well as view photos and videos of her mum.
“This helped put everyone’s mind at ease. It’s not easy to handle an elderly person with dementia and with a care services provider, we no longer need to trouble our relatives for help,” she says.
Caregiving for aged parents is often a partnership between the family and care providers.
“It doesn’t have to be something that children take on alone. There’s no shame in asking for help,” says PC Gan, country manager for professional care facility, Homage Malaysia.
“There’s this social stigma within the Asian community that children ‘must’ take care of their aged parents themselves.
“But having a professional caregiver doesn’t mean you’re abandoning your parents or not being responsible,” she says.
However, even if there is a professional caregiver to help, it’s good that loved ones still be involved, she stresses.
“Visiting where possible, phone and video calls, messages, sharing of photos and videos, remembering special occasions - all these are part of being involved in their life.
“This gives their aged parent the reassurance that they’re not being abandoned, they’re still an important part of the family,” says Gan.