Sometimes, home nursing creeps up on you. You gradually take on more and more tasks for your elderly parents. From phoning them daily and visiting every night to using up all your holidays to applying for unpaid leave. Eventually, you realise even that’s not enough when it comes to taking care of elderly parents.

Other times, you are catapulted into home nursing after a medical crisis. Your elderly parent has a stroke or heart attack, or they need somewhere to recover from an operation or cancer treatment.

I’d been spending more and more time caring for my parents while juggling a full-time job. Then, my mother fell and broke her hip. Suddenly I had to look after two terrified 90-year-olds, both with multiple medical conditions.

My dad had bladder, kidney, heart, mobility and hearing problems, and only 15 per cent sight. My mother was already blind before her fall, and now she was mostly in bed or a wheelchair.

Worst of all, her mind was affected. Three operations, multiple anaesthetics and pain pills had turned my funny, clever mother into a confused, angry and forgetful child. She needed 24/7-care. So I moved into their home to provide it. Here’s what I learned:

Don’t Try To Care For Elderly Relatives AloneGet Help

I remember the exact time I realised I realised this truth.

I was sleeping on the floor next to mum’s bed. I’d started doing this because she needed my help six or seven times a night. Sometimes she needed to go to the toilet commode. Other times she needed a heat pack for her pain, or more blankets, or fewer pillows…

Anyway, that night, I woke with a start around 4 am. I’d heard a noise. Through my fog of exhaustion, I realised my mum was not in bed!

She was in the living room! Although she could hardly walk — or see — she had somehow managed to get out of bed and slide along the walls to the living room. I was so shocked. How did she even get around me? She could have fallen! Or killed herself! I was so scared; I shouted at her.

And that just made things worse. She started crying, and it was clear she had no idea what time it was — or even who I was. In a little girl’s voice, she told me she’d gone looking for her dolly. “Please don’t scream at me,” she cried.

It broke my heart. I found my mum’s knitted teddy bear, put her back in bed and stroked her hair until she fell asleep.

Then I sat on the floor in the hallway and sobbed. I was exhausted, lonely and terrified of failing my parents. I’d lost 15 kilos in a few months, and my hair was coming out in handfuls. I needed help.

Take it from someone who has been there. Don’t try to do everything alone. I know you’re loving and filial. But you’re also just a human. You will break if you try to do it all alone.

How Home-nursing Services For The Elderly Can Help You

Tips on Taking Care Of Elderly Parents At Home
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It’s common for elderly relatives to have several health problems. You may have to watch for warning symptoms like sudden fevers after cancer treatments. You’ll probably have to keep track of a gazillion pills and medicines. Also, you may have to handle practical medial tasks like inserting and removing urine catheters, or giving injections.

Home nursing services can do many of these tasks for you to make long-term care safer and less stressful. One such service provider in Singapore is Ninkatec. This company offers 24 hours of cost-effective and personalised healthcare solutions and palliative care for elderly patients. They use a combination of personal assessments, and hi-tech tools, like the Ninkasnug mat.

This mat lies under a patient in bed, and intelligent sensors pick up micro-movements from the patient’s breathing rhythms and heartbeats. The record helps doctors with treatment, and it reassures you that everything is okay. For instance, if the mat detects any unusual activity, Ninkatec will send a medical response team to the patient. Plus, their call centre is staffed around the clock, so you can call for clinical advice in the middle of the night.

Tap On Home Nurses For Life Skills, Not Just Medical Help

As well as medical skills, part-time home care nurses can give you with practical tips. One of dad’s home nurses showed me her “go bag”. It is a backpack stocked with extra underwear, anti-mosquito spray, drinks, extra trousers, jumpers, wet wipes and big plastic bags (to carry soiled clothes). This nurse uses it when she takes elderly clients on outings.

So I bought a backpack and stocked it with items she suggested. It’s come in handy several times — and it makes a massive difference to be hands-free when you’re pushing a wheelchair. 

Take A Break For Yourself Every Day — Even For 1 Hour

Tips on Taking Care Of Elderly Parents At Home
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Something about providing long term care will drive you, especially CRAZY. Your parent will ask the same question 20 times or refuse to wear a hearing aid, so you have to shout everything. Or they’ll move incredibly slowly when you have a gazillion other things to do.

Unless you are a living saint, it can get frustrating. But it helps to stay calm and move at their pace. For one, it’s not physically safe trying to hustle a fragile, elderly person to get off a shower chair. You’ll slip on the wet floor, or they will.

I’ve learnt you can only be an effective and loving carer if you are in control of your emotions. That’s why you need a break every day. You need to de-compress.

It’s great if you have access to a helper or maid. Still, there’s no substitute for medical training, especially if your elderly parents have complex medical needs. Every day when our part-time home nurse arrived, I could go out for a walk or grab a coffee. I’d get an hour to myself and know my parents were still safe — worth every cent.

Suggest Specific Tasks Your Family Can Do To Share The Load

Not everyone will volunteer to help with long-term home care. Some people live too far away. Others have too much on their plates with children or in-laws. Others are just not sure what to do.

So it helps to suggest specific tasks they can take on. For instance, if they live too far away to visit, can they contribute financially? So you can get more home-nursing help?

Other essential tasks they could help with include managing government paperwork, buying home-care tools like shower chairs and walkers, dealing with legal or medical paperwork, doing regular household tasks, and taking mum and dad to medical appointments.

Make a list of all the tasks you do, and share them with your family. It’s true some people may still be too selfish to help. What can I say? That’s on them. But I found many are willing — if you give them some direction.

Learn “Manual Movement Skills” To Protect Your Back

Don’t ignore your own health when you are providing long term care.

For instance, you can easily hurt your back or shoulders when you’re carrying an adult. Protect your back by investing in a few simple tools — like a slippery plastic slide sheet (as this video shows, slide sheets make it much easier to move someone in bed.)

It’s also easier for an elderly person to slide into the car if you put a slide sheet on the seat. Also, try a car cane — a portable handle that fits any car door. It makes it much easier for people with weak legs to exit the car and stand up.

Our home nurse also showed me safer ways to carry and move heavy objects without straining your back. You can see some medical “manual movement methods” in the videos in these links.

Caregiver Tips For Elderly Fall Prevention

Tips on Taking Care Of Elderly Parents At Home
Photo: 123RF

Anything that helps your elderly relatives move around with more confidence is a good idea.  

My mum broke her hip when she tripped on a rug that she had refused to remove, despite my nagging. I should have just ignored her protests and threw out the rug. Now I will feel guilty forever.

So do what you can now to make the home safer. Remove rugs that can trip them up, and install motion sensor lights in cupboards and along dim passageways. Add handrails along corridors and in bathrooms. Resurface slippery tile and marble floors with non-slip tiles or use a paint-on surface treatment.

You can apply for funding to modify an HDB apartment for elderly, here. And this website gives ideas and safety tips that are directly relevant to Singapore homes.

Funding To Pay For Eldercare At Home In Singapore

In Singapore, when it comes to taking care of elderly parents, there are a number of grants and schemes for home carers, including Home Caregivers Grant of up to $200 a month, and Seniors Mobility and Enabling Fund. Some are means-tested. This blog post by Ninkatec gives a good overview of eldercare resources, contacts and where to start when taking care of elderly parents.

When researching funding and eldercare resources, I found it helped to have a concertina file to keep all contacts, ID number and papers together in one place. When you get through to anyone on the phone, you want to be able to follow up — on the spot!

I also took a screenshot of all papers and ID info on my handphone and filed them in “albums” of screenshots. This made it easier to work on-the-go. I could even fire off an email with the correct attachment while I sat in a doctor’s waiting room.

Join Online Forums For Long-term Caregivers

I found this website very useful because it’s about carers sharing what works for them in real life. For instance, I learnt to use textured rubber play mats under a bedside toilet commode. They’re cheap, non-slip and clean-up is easier after any “accidents”.

The website content includes other caregivers sharing tips and people venting their frustrations. It’s comforting to know that you are not a monster if long-term care of your elderly folks sometimes makes you feel angry or overwhelmed. Even just knowing you are not alone in your struggle can be enough to keep you going for another day.