I wrote about my father’s dementia condition last year, how I discovered it and what we did subsequently. This year, based on the specialist assessment, my father will receive follow-up treatment at a polyclinic instead of going to the specialist clinic in a hospital.
Singapore’s medical system is good in one aspect: the hospitals and polyclinics are sited within networks so that follow through can take place easily. Information retrieval and cascading is much easier too.
I accompanied my father for the first visit to the polyclinic last month. The visit was a vast difference from the initial one we made about four years ago, when we sought for a referral to a specialist for his condition.
The system in the polyclinic was transformed. You can register online and get your queue number, instead of waiting for your turn in a line. Plus, directions are printed on the receipt for reference. Wait time is also reduced for payment. You can choose to pay via a self-service kiosk.
But I digressed. My point in writing this post is to update about my father’s condition.
I wrote earlier how my father exhibited signs of anxiety when he ‘discovered’ possible material loss, panicked when he ‘remembered’ that he was supposed to do something, and his obsessive search for possessions in 2017. Those moments were terrifying for me.
When he was officially diagnosed with dementia, we were not told what type he is suffering from. It was a common type, and he has about 10 years or so. We knew we had to provide some intervention to delay the regression of his condition.
Dementia patients have the option to use medication to improve memory capacity. But I refused to let my father take cognitive enhancers as there could be side effects arising from taking the medication. Side effects could include diarrhea, loss of appetite, amongst others.
Instead, we decided to place him in a day activity centre for senior citizens, where he will have opportunities to interact with people, have a regular diet and learn to exercise. This move seems to have worked so far.
The caregiver in the centre gave me updates once in a while. I was told how my father enjoyed singing in front of an audience, something that surprised me since I have never seen him do that before.
The caregiver also showed me an artwork my father did at the centre recently. It is a picture to celebrate the year of the rat (you can see it at the top of this post). I was amazed at the art piece. I didn’t know my father could draw this well. It may not be as skilled as trained artists, but my father showed originality in thinking through his observation of the picture he was adapting from.
I think the art piece also revealed something else: his memory capacity did not worsen. Yes, he still suffers from memory loss and keeps asking the same questions to people around him, but he is not experiencing aggression or anxiety attacks like the ones in 2017. He is familiar with objects like red packets, oranges and rats. And he knows how to vary the background of the picture according to his preference. That speaks volumes about his mental state at this point.
My conversation with the doctor and nurse at the memory clinic in the polyclinic helped me understand more about dementia. My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia, a very common and mild strand in the dementia class. He will suffer from increased memory loss over time and will lose many of his bodily functions at the end.
Which is why they pay attention to his ability for daily living. The focus for future appointments will centre on his body functions and control. Blood tests will be done to check on his cholesterol levels and general health. Checks will be done so we can see how to help him as he ages gracefully.
They have two other pieces of advice for me: one, settle his assets while possible now, before he loses the ability to sign papers while in a clear mental state; two, get a tracking device and attach to him so that we can trace his location if he is out on his own.
These are basic but needful reminders on what dementia can do to a person when the memory capacity is no longer as good. You have to depend on external aids to continue with living, and reduce the worries family members may have for the patient.
Knowing and experiencing more about dementia these few years makes me wonder if dementia is hereditary. I still have no answer. Medical research yielded nothing so far. It is fair to say though that there can be some hereditary factors involved.
I am thankful my father has maintained his condition. I still don’t know what will happen in the years to come. But I have learnt that keeping his diet and sleep habits in check plus getting him mentally and physically stimulated are important to stabilising his condition.
Giving him some responsibility will also provide him with a sense of dignity. But that can create some issues, like the little quarrels he has with my mother for watering the plants until they wilt, or throwing away letters and documents my mother kept because they are ‘waste paper’ to him.
I can choose to see these conflicts from another perspective. They provide mental stimulation to test my father’s mental state and an avenue to test my mother’s resourcefulness. It also makes life kind of interesting, in a way.
A while ago, my father was upset that he lost a red packet I gave him for new year. He claimed to have put inside his pocket but could not find it later on. My mother searched the whole house over but couldn’t find it.
I could have gotten upset over this, but I chose not to. I started a search in his room, starting with the drawers. Lo and behold, I found the red packet underneath another red packet. I managed to calm my father and soothed my mother, all without me getting emotional about it.
Dementia patients need special care. No point getting worked up over forgetful episodes or misplaced objects since dementia patients themselves cannot help it. Getting upset may lead to unnecessary issues later.
My father’s illness is a reminder that I should maintain and upkeep my own health too, so that I don’t become a burden to others.
Your health is your responsibility. We often tend to neglect our health in our younger years, thinking that we can withstand a lot of health issues and that time and age are on our side. Unfortunately that is not true always. Health issues can affect us anytime.
So go for health screening, watch what you eat, and take care of your mental and physical conditions. You will benefit from adopting positive habits years down the road.
Do you know more elderly are affected by this condition today? Have you ever had encounters with dementia patients that make you stop and wonder about this condition? How can you cultivate patience when interacting with dementia patients?