Nicole Lee still tears up when she thinks about the last leg of her late grandfather’s life. A cheerful man by nature, the nonagenarian had become a shell of his former self after he was diagnosed with dementia in his 90s. And, her biggest regret? That she didn’t know how to best care for him in the years before he passed away.
“Do you know what it’s like to see your loved one suffering? When you want to truly help them but don’t know how and don’t have the support or knowledge to do so? That’s what I went through with my granddad.
“In 2018, he started to became a bit ‘blur’. We took him for a checkup and he was diagnosed with dementia. Initially, my family and I were quite nonchalant about it. We thought it would be OK and that life would go on as usual.
“Even though I was a psychology student and had studied about mental illnesses and all, I didn’t understand what we were in for,” Lee, 27, shares.
Pretty soon, her grandfather’s condition began to deteriorate.
“He started having accidents more frequently, He’d go for walks and come back with scrapes and bruises. Once, he even fell into a drain and had huge bruises as, at 96, his skin was paper thin. It got scary and was a rude awakening for us all.
“His condition deteriorated rapidly. He ate less and less, sometimes not at all. He became thinner. And it was harder to engage with him. Some of my family members would say that he had selective hearing and he was purposely not communicating.
“Thinking back, those comments must have been very hurtful for him to hear. I think it affected him as he became both more quiet and explosive – shouting at us. He never was like this before.
“He became wheelchair-bound and it took three of us to move him. We were so unprepared and exhausted. We even took him to see a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with depression and prescribed medication which did placate him. But, because of the medicine, all he did was drool in his chair,” she says.
While Lee and her family thought they were doing the best for the old man, Lee realised that they were actually not “properly taking care of him” and when he passed on, she couldn’t bear to think about her grandpa.
“That was how he spent the end of his life. We loved him a lot, but it ended that way. We thought we were doing our best. We didn’t know any other way,” she says.
Though she can’t change her past, Lee is now devoting her life to senior care. She is part of Masoc Care – Malaysian Association for Social Care Professionals and Homes – an NGO started by a group of young professionals (all in their 20s and early 30s) who aim to advocate for senior care in Malaysia.
Co-founder of Masoc Care Dr Melody Ang says that she started the association after seeing how ill-equipped Malaysia is to face its rapidly ageing population.
“I was formerly lecturing at a private university here while also acting as an investment consultant for China-Malaysia business partnerships. I noticed an interest from China for retirement projects and homes in Malaysia. Because of their former one-child policy, there was a huge demand among the Chinese for retirement projects abroad. “I was also consulting on a retirement village project locally – that was when I realised that it wasn’t sustainable to focus solely on such projects without talking about the need to train more caregivers.
“Who is going to care for the seniors who are going to live in these retirement villages? The hard work of caregiving – handling the toilet issues of the elderly, their dental care, etc – are we going to leave it to foreign workers?
“But my care voice was often silenced in these discussions and I realised I cannot work for a for-profit organisation. My voice was not heard or appreciated because what I was talking about doesn’t bring about immediate ROI (return on investment).
“So I decided to start this association with a few partners who also care about these issues,” says Ang, 31, who started Masoc Care about four years ago.
Inspired by the Japanese model of senior care, Masoc Care advocates for the involvement of the young (youth and young adults) in caring for the aged. It also focuses on teaching caregivers to empower seniors to remain independent for as long as possible.
The association signed a partnership with the Japanese government to run their training programmes on senior care here. The programmes are localised to meet the needs of Malaysia.
There are short programmes and also short-term and long-term courses (that are available online) on senior care aimed at youngsters, but also open to Malaysians aged 16 to 60. Among the training courses they offer is the Care Professional Development Programme, a 10-month programme with certification by Malaysian Skill Certificate (SKM) and the Kaigo (Essence of Caregiving) course (recognised by Malaysia and Japan, and will enable participants to pursue a national caregiver qualification in Japan) which teaches a range of modules on topics such as fall prevention, mental health of seniors, bodily changes to look out for and also technical aspects on how to reschedule their meal times, how to help them move about if they are impaired in any way, etc.
There are also short programmes such as the Set Sail programme, a youth development programme which aims to teach basic skills and introduce senior care as a career opportunity to youngsters. They also offer a Japanese Scholarship Programme for Malaysians to pursue a course in senior care in Japan, among other programmes. The courses aren’t just for those seeking a career in senior care but also family members who want to learn the basics about senior care.
“Ninety-three percent of family caregivers have never received proper caregiving training. This is worrying because, instead of giving care, we may unintentionally be inflicting pain on our loved ones. And this may lead to them being annoyed or angry, which will cause more stress for caregivers and lead to unpleasant experiences for both caregiver and the elderly (person),” says Ang.
“We feel we have a lot to learn from Japan who became an aged nation years ago and have coped well. How? One way is by exposing their young to senior care right from school. Japan also has good (public) services for seniors and so the young are exposed to this.
“The old cannot take care of the old. The young need to do it and, as young people, we want to advocate for this,” she concludes.
For more information, go to masoc.care/