Shivani first started recognising the symptoms of dementia in her grandmother around six years ago. “I realised my grandmother began repeating her questions. She also started to lose interest in her daily activities – such as cooking and watching her favourite Tamil TV programmes. I used to take her for hydrotherapy, yoga and Tai Chi sessions in the park, but she began to refuse to leave the house.”

“It was and has been one of the most painful ordeals in my life. To see someone whom you love so dearly slowly fade away is a pain no one should have to endure. I felt an inability to cope and accept that my grandmother’s mental health was deteriorating.”

With her dementia, Shivani’s grandmother refused to leave the house or even visit the temple. By this time, Shivani had already taken three months off work to spend more time with her.

Grandmother diagnosis Alzheimer's dementia, true story
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Shivani admits that though there is nothing she wouldn’t do for her grandmother, there have been challenges along the way. “There was one time she slammed the door on me in anger. And I could not recognise the sweet, docile lady that she had always been. I had to reassure myself and my family that her dementia is causing her to act in such a way and that it is something she cannot control. The next day she apologised to me as she knew something bad had happened but was unable to recollect what she had done. I hugged and comforted her.”

“Another challenging moment happened recently. I was staying at a hotel as I was screening Covid-19 patients and was concerned for my grandmother’s safety. Three days after living away from the house, I received a distressed phone call from my grandmother. She asked what had happened to her husband who had passed away nearly 35 years ago. Unable to return home, I was frantic. I got my medical friend to visit my home to assess her and ensure she was not having a stroke. It turned out she also had delirium since she was not used to me being away for so long. We had also changed her living environment as our home was undergoing renovations. It was then that I realised how important it was to keep her surroundings the same and maintain her daily routines to prevent her from becoming disoriented.”

Caregiving is a full-time job, and one that comes with its own set of responsibilities and often stress. As Shivani shares, you have to be mindful that your loved one needs you and you have to be accommodating. At the same time, it is important to take breaks and be kind to yourself or you will be affected psychologically and not be able to render the optimal care you want to. When in need, you should seek external support services that can help lift some of the burdens off your shoulders.

For Shivani, that help came in the form of Homage. Homage is an award-winning personal care solution that works with care recipients with a range of mobility and medical conditions, including chronic and terminal illnesses such as Dementia, Stroke, Parkinson’s and cancer, helping them be more mobile and functional as well as providing social and personal care.

Shivani shares, “It has been the most incredible service and a godsend for me. My grandmother is kept mentally and physically active in the comforts of her own home and familiar surroundings. I strongly believe that the care visits with Homage have slowed down the progress of my grandmother’s dementia more than any medication.

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“My grandmother may not have advanced dementia yet, but I know her condition will progress and I have to be mentally prepared. I even started looking into alarm aids, bedside rails and webcam monitoring so that I can continue to keep a close eye on her during work.”

“I have also set up weekly Zoom meetings with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren overseas. Being a doctor, I have been able to explain to my family that my grandmother’s repetitive questions and behavioural symptoms are secondary to her dementia. I wish someone had told me earlier of the challenges that I was to face.”

“However, having experienced the immense benefits of having a support system now, I hope I can pay it forward. I want to tell people who have loved ones afflicted with this dreadful condition that they are not alone.”