Mr Chua Joo Ee, now 43, has been caring full-time for his mother, Mdm Toh Wee, who is diagnosed with dementia. He shares his caregiving story and how he became a volunteer with Alzheimer’s Disease Association’s (ADA) Caregiver Support Service.
My journey as a caregiver began when my mother was diagnosed with dementia six years ago. We first suspected something was wrong in 2011, when she started exhibiting abnormal behaviour at home. She would throw tantrums and was sometimes physically aggressive. This left me and my family very confused and worried.
That same year, when she was warded in the hospital, she was excessively suspicious of the people around her and refused to eat unless I was there to cajole her. It was then that she was referred to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with vascular dementia.
I didn’t know anything about dementia then and the days ahead in caring for my mother were rough. Medication did not provide an instant cure and it took awhile before her condition gradually stabilised. I knew I needed help if I wanted to be able to balance life and care for my mother. That was when I turned to ADA’s New Horizon Centre (Jurong Point) in 2012. It gave me a peace of mind; to know she was being cared for while I was at work.
In 2014, I had to quit my job to care for mother full-time after she suffered from a serious stroke. I was overwhelmed by my responsibilities and I often felt alone in my journey. During one of my mother’s appointments, her psychiatrist shared that I might benefit from ADA’s Caregiver’s Support Group and encouraged me to attend. Through the sessions, I’ve met many fellow caregivers, who share similar struggles with me.
The support team is always ready to offer advice and I even enjoy other stress-relieving activities. I’m offered respite from my daily duties when I attend the session as I’m able to leave my mother in the care of the volunteers. I’m extremely heartened to have found a group of people whom I can call my second family. Not everyone understands, but my second family is where I can turn to when I feel frustrated or have problems I cannot solve in my journey of caregiving.
I’ve benefitted so much from the programme and I want to continue giving back through my role as a support group facilitator. Life is very short and I want to focus on caring for my mother while I still can. But as a caregiver who was once at my wit’s end, I know how stressful it can be to keep problems to myself when caring for her. My goal is to encourage other caregivers to air their thoughts in a safe environment, and for them to find support with people going through the same challenges as they are.
Joo Ee’s positive attitude and immense fortitude has made him one of the three recipients of the 2016 Singapore Patient Action Awards, organised by Tan Tock Seng Hospital. The award honours individuals who play an active role in the recovery of their family members.
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