My journey navigating through mum’s dementia

By January 31, 2019 Awareness, Caregiver, Singapore
Robing has been caring for his mother, Sally, who was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 62. He shares his journey in navigating through the condition with his mother and some of the tough decisions he had to make.
Story contributed by Robing Ng  // Edited by Suhaana Khanna 

My journey with my mother’s dementia began in a way that I had never expected. In 2009, my mother suffered from multiple anxiety attacks, with symptoms similar to that of a heart attack or stroke. We were confused as to what was happening, but after several medical assessments she was cleared from the hospital of both of these conditions.

She was referred to both neurologists and psychiatrists, but she was cleared too. After almost a year of tests, doctor visits, and after visiting multiple specialists, my mother was referred to a geriatrician. There, she was diagnosed with dementia.

Learning about dementia 

In our minds, all dementia was was Alzheimer’s disease, and the only symptom – forgetfulness. During the initial years, most of the information I knew was through websites and television programmes. Although there were several public forums organized by the hospital that I work in, I never really took the opportunity to learn from those events.

The early stages of my mum’s dementia journey were quite manageable, so I believed that everything I had assumed about dementia was right, and that I was definitely prepared to deal with my mother’s condition. I was very wrong.

After five years of being diagnosed, her condition began to deteriorate, and she started living a very different life. Hallucinations, impatience, amongst day to day difficulties started occurring very often. Into the sixth year, she started to lose her ability to communicate clearly. That’s when I started to research more about dementia, and realised that there are so many other types of dementia; Lewy Body Dementia, Vascular Dementia, Parkinson’s Disease and Frontotemporal Dementia.

Becoming someone I no longer recognised

Dementia changed my mother’s personality. She often exhibited mood swings and we didn’t know what she was upset about, as her speech ability had also started to deteriorate. She would be smiling at you now but would turn into an angry woman within 15 mins.

Being a caregiver to my mother was very challenging as it began to affect my relationships too. When I was at work, my father was the main caregiver, and thus I also worried that he may be suffering from caregiver’s stress.

“Being a caregiver to my mother was very challenging as it began to affect my relationships too. When I was at work, my father was the main caregiver, and thus I also worried that he may be suffering from caregiver’s stress.”
Daycare services were no longer an option as her condition progressed 

In 2017, I decided to send my mother to dementia daycare so that with professional help, she could be engaged in activities during the day – as my dad could simply not do it.

In the initial six months, my mother was doing fine, but it started to change after that. She started throwing tantrums and even smashed things at the daycare. The staff could no longer care for mum due to her behavioural change, so we had to take her out of the programme. We tried to get help from the geriatrician, however he only increased her medication dosage, which didn’t make too much of a difference.

I even hired a domestic helper to help care for my mother, but to no avail. The helper would be a victim to my mother’s moods, and that would result in a scolding from my mother for no reason. As my mum’s condition didn’t improve at the daycare centre, or with the helper, I decided to refer her to see the geriatrician at the well-known Changi General Hospital.

In 2018, she was admitted and was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (‘FTD’). During her hospitalization, we realized that her condition was really difficult to manage because she had behavioural issues such as violence and shouting.

Due to these behavioural issues, the geriatrician recommended for mum to be institutionalised in a nursing home to ensure 24/7 professional supervision.

The tough decision of sending mum to a home

It was getting really difficult to manage my mother alone with my work schedule, and I knew my dad couldn’t do it either. The daycare was already out of the question because the nurses were unable to manage her. I was constantly worried about my mother’s well-being.

It took a lot for me and my family to reach a decision in sending my mother to a home. The journey in navigating through her condition and reaching this decision has been a long one – but it doesn’t stop there. We love her and I still visit her daily. While it is a tough decision, we know that she is receiving quality care where she is now.

This feature is part of the Singapore Mental Health Film Festival 2019. Catch Much Too Young followed by a panel discussion on the topic of young caregivers for persons with dementia. The session will be joined by Robing Ng.

With dementia hitting individuals at a younger age where they are in the prime of their career and family, financial and emotional strains are often amplified. However, the strains faced by these young families are often overlooked. The film powerfully demonstrates how this disease not only affects the person diagnosed and the primary caregiver, but how it takes a toll on the family and someone in the prime of their lives – the children caregivers. Get your tickets here

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