Janet Koh: What Care Means To Me


Caring is to always be there for my loved one. In 2010, I resigned from my full-time job as a secretary at 54 to take care of my elderly mother, Ng Sook Cheng. She was 76, and had suffered a stroke earlier that year. The stroke caused her mobility to be affected and she had to use a walking frame or a wheelchair to get around. My mother also had benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, making her prone to dizziness, fainting and falls. Caring is to take ownership as a caregiver. In 2014, my mother was diagnosed with dementia. In response, I took on the challenge of quickly learning as much as I could about dementia, in order to be better prepared to handle the challenges associated with it. I attended talks and support group meetings, and went through skills training programmes subsidised by the Caregivers Training Grant. I chose to take responsibility for looking after my mother, telling myself that if I did not, who else would? Caring is to value my loved one and to see her as separate from her mental health condition. I came to recognise that my mother’s behaviour, no matter how unreasonable it seemed, was due to dementia and the effects it had on her brain. Over time, I learned to focus on my mother’s current thoughts and emotions, instead of comparing her to how she was like in the past. There is a person behind the dementia, and I desired to understand and relate to that person. I know that this attitude allows my mother to live a dignified life despite her condition, and in my eyes she continues to be someone special. Caring is to look after my loved one unfailingly, even where it involves stressful or physically demanding tasks. In May 2017, a massive stroke recurred and my mother was paralysed on the right side of her body. It also caused her dementia to plunge to the severe stage, requiring more intensive care. Unfortunately, just four months later, I suffered an accident and had to undergo a hip surgery. It meant that I had my own physical constraints and continuing to care for my mother was a challenge. I found strength in my darkest hour through innovative solutions, such as using a hoist to manage the daily routine of transferring my mother from her bed to the shower commode for baths, and to the geriatric chair or wheelchair to prevent bedbound pressure sores. This was on top of dressing her, feeding her and changing her diapers. Whenever my mother was unable to sleep, I would stay awake by her side throughout the night. In November 2017, she experienced difficulty swallowing her food and was diagnosed with dysphagia. I meticulously ensured her food was of the correct consistency and would painstakingly feed her through long meals. Caring is to take care of my self-care needs, so that I can in turn look after my loved one. I came to understand the importance of watching my own physical and mental health. As a result, I made sure to always seek out helpful information, consult community resources, join support groups and take regular breaks to sustain myself as my mother’s caregiver. I knew this was necessary since the caregiver’s journey can sometimes be solitary and long drawn. Caring is to enjoy spending quality time with my loved one. My relation with my mother became about getting to know her all over again, and building a new relationship with her. I realised that spending time with her could be enjoyable as there are still many things that a person with dementia can do. I cared for my mother by respecting her, just like I would anyone else – as a unique person with a wealth of experience. I spent long hours keeping my mother company to give her a safe, loving, and stable environment throughout her struggle with her mental health condition. Providing care is not easy, but it makes all the difference to my mother. In spite of all its extraordinary challenges, I believe that a caregiver to a loved one rarely regrets the journey.

Story and photo provided by Janet Koh Hui Kheng (story edited)


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