Ms Caroline Yeo was still a few years away from retirement when she decided to retire early.
She enjoyed her work as a secretary in a company that provides corporate advisory services, and would spend her free time with her mum, Madam Koh, whom she lives with. They would go shopping, watch movies, or have staycations.
Things changed after Madam Koh, now 99, was diagnosed with dementia in 2014. Over time, Madam Koh experienced worsening symptoms, including mood swings, forgetfulness, and sundowning syndrome – in which one exhibits behaviour changes, particularly in the evening.
Caroline, 63, quit her job in 2015, realising she needed to stay home and keep a closer watch on her mother – essentially becoming a full-time caregiver.
For the next three years, Caroline managed the caregiving duties on her own, relying on their pooled savings to manage the care costs. She would help Madam Koh, who needs a wheelchair to get around, with her activities of daily living, which included transferring and using the toilet.
More Support In Time
In 2018, Caroline realised she needed more support with taking care of her mum as her mother’s condition deteriorated over the years. Madam Koh was no longer able to walk, which meant a lot of physical strength was required to help her with daily activities such as toileting and transferring.
Through some research, Caroline found out about home nursing services and was introduced to nurse Nasreen Jahan, a former hospital registered nurse who found her calling in Community Care.
Nasreen’s duties include assisting Madam Koh with activities of daily living like bathing and moving about. She also makes sure the 99-year-old gets some exercise, and provides nursing care such as preparing her medications, and regularly adjusting her position in bed to prevent bedsores.
Nasreen, who now works for healthcare service Jaga-Me, shared that Madam Koh was one of the most feisty clients she’s worked with. The senior is prone to mood swings especially when the weather got humid, and would lash out at Nasreen during her daily house visits on weekdays.
The home nurse remembered the first few visits to be mentally and physically exhausting. But that didn’t deter her from providing care and support, and her determination eventually won Madam Koh over.
“When I first started visiting her, I wanted to quit because I didn’t understand whatever mama (Madam Koh) was saying, and her mood changes with the weather,” Nasreen admitted.
Today, Madam Koh still cannot pronounce Nasreen’s name properly, and would cheekily call her “Nasi Goreng”, says Nasreen with a laugh.
Caroline observed the bond between her mother and the home nurse with joy and assurance: “Nasreen knows how to handle my mum best when Mum is being difficult."
Bouts of Hospital Stays
In 2019, Caroline suddenly found herself to be at the receiving end of care after fracturing her pelvis in a fall. She underwent a pelvis replacement surgery and not long after, she contracted dengue. She experienced chronic joint pain after recovering from the mosquito-borne disease and needed orthopaedic care.
Today, Caroline uses a wheelchair to get around. She also needs help with her activities of daily living, and relies on the help of a care aide from Jaga-Me for this everyday support.
When recounting this difficult period in her life, Caroline remains cheerful, describing her hospital stays as “three different staycations”.
Help Needed Urgently
Caroline turned to Jaga-Me again, and now engages a nurse for her mother, and a care aide for herself. Both mum and daughter need similar kinds of support with their ADLs, but Madam Koh receives more nursing care for her health conditions.
Currently, Madam Koh cannot take part in conversations, but she is participative – even during this interview. Nasreen keeps her engaged by replying positively to the older lady, giving her high-fives or encouraging her to dance at some points during the interview.
When she was still working, Caroline’s day usually started with a quick breakfast before heading to the office. Now, her daily routine is slower but no less meaningful, starting with a leisurely breakfast with her mother before talking to friends via video calls. Both women would then do indoor activities such as stretches or watch the television.
Due to their care needs, Caroline would arrange a month in advance with Jaga-Me on the care roster, to arrange for when each nurse would be heading down to care for the mother-daughter duo: “I would WhatsApp the nurses and they will do up the roster for us to prepare for each month.”
Amid the pandemic, Caroline is glad she has the support of the home care team watching over her and her mum.