Saturday, December 6, 2014


Who among us would not want to live a long and happy life? We all want to enjoy our golden years in good health, and that means being able to take care of ourselves and remaining physically active and mentally sound. 

But life does not always give us what we want. What happens when old age brings with it a host of health problems? What do we do if our elderly parents are in this situation and we are unable to look after them for one reason or another? Or for that matter, where do we go when we ourselves reach old age, and we too need to be looked after?

This is where daycare centres for the elderly, residential homecare centres and nursing homes come in. They play a vital role in providing care for the elderly who require assistance with activities of daily living.

Mom (photo taken on 26/11/14)
Unfortunately, the number of care centres and homes for the elderly in the country has not risen in tandem with the rapid rise in the ageing population. According to the Department of Statistics, Malaysia, life expectancy has increased from 63.1 to 71.9 years for male, and 66 to 76.6 for female, from 1966 to 2010. It is projected to increase further in 2040 when men can expect to live to 78 years and women to 83.

Between 2010 and 2040, the number of Malaysians aged 65 years and above are projected to triple. Based on these figures, Malaysia will become an ageing country as early as 2021 when the population aged 65 years and over reach 7.1 per cent.

These figures are a cause for concern. Will the number of aged care facilities be able to cope with the surge in the elderly population?

Socio-economic changes have resulted in smaller family size. While in the past there was always someone at home to look after the elderly parents, today they are often left alone at home to fend for themselves when their adult children are at work. What if they fall and hurt themselves? What if they suffer a stroke or a heart attack? Who is there to send them to the hospital or call for an ambulance?

That was exactly what happened one Sunday evening in March 2011. I came home to find my mother sprawled on the floor unable to move. I had left her on her own to attend a workshop in another state. I dread to think of what would have happened if I had returned a day later. It was a traumatic experience for me.

At the hospital x-rays confirmed that my mom had sustained a hip fracture and would require surgery. During her 10-day post-surgery recovery in the hospital, the doctor informed me that my mom was showing signs of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). He advised me to get her examined by a geriatrician at Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC). All along I had assumed that her memory lapses and occasional odd behavior were due to old age. My mom was 85 at the time.

The six months of post-surgery rehabilitation was a most trying period for both of us. It was my first experience of being the sole caregiver and it left me physically exhausted and emotionally drained. My mom’s failing memory plus her limited mobility meant that she needed constant supervision which I was unable to provide for the long term.

Mom at the ADFM Day Care Center in Section 11, PJ

I was fortunate to discover the ADFM daycare centre in PJ, near UMMC. I had read an announcement in the papers of a talk to be held at the centre. I visited the centre and liked what I saw. The facility was clean and elder-friendly. There were daily activities to engage the clients physically and mentally. The staff were trained and qualified. My mom would be in the company of people her age group, and she wouldn’t have only me for company.

The centre could do with a name change, but the facilities and care provided are excellent.

My mom was at the PJ daycare centre for three months. When the Dementia Homecare Centre at Telok Panglima Garang started accepting admissions in September 2011, my mom moved in there. She has since settled in comfortably and enjoys the peace and quiet of the place.

It has been three years now and my mom regards the centre as her home. She is well taken care of by the staff. I visit her regularly to make sure she has everything she needs. We enjoy chatting and sharing stories. I am also aware that one day she may no longer recognize me. As her condition advances, she will require more nursing care. I am confident ADFM will be able to provide the care and attention she needs. I know I can’t.

The proposed ADFM training and care centre to be built in PJ Old Town. (Photo: The Star)

The traditional family unit has changed with the times. These changes necessitate a change in our mindset too. Does placing an elderly parent in a home reflect a lack of filial piety? I have thought long and deep about this. And the answer is No. Not if they need professional nursing care and we are unable to provide that at home. Not if they have dementia and must be supervised 24/7. Not if it is no longer safe for them to be left alone.

There are so many things to worry about when an elderly parent with dementia is left alone at home. Did mom remember to take her medication? What if she took more than prescribed and overdosed? What if she fell and lost consciousness? What if she forgot to turn off the gas stove, or lock the front door? What if she wandered off and couldn’t remember her way back?

It is our responsibility to make sure that we choose the right home where our parents get the best possible care. I am happy to say ADFM’s Dementia Homecare is the home sweet home for my mom. She is happy there and no longer remembers where her own home is.

Find out more about Alzheimer's and ADFM at 

Ultimately, it is an individual decision. Each family has to decide what to do when the time comes for mom and dad to be looked after 24/7. But just remember the dire consequences should anything disastrous happen to an elderly parent who lives alone.

One day it will be our adult children to worry about us. What will their decision be then? How will we react to their decision? Only time will tell.

The above article (text only) first appeared in ADFM's special limited edition of "Sharing" magazine that was published in conjunction with the "Forget-Me-Not" concert held on 5 Dec 2014 in honour of the Sultan of Selangor's 69th birthday, and also to raise funds for the building of ADFM's new training and care centre in PJ.

Updated on 6 Dec 2020: 
Less than a year after the above concert at KLCC on 5 Dec 2014, the residential Dementia Care Home at Teluk Panglima Garang closed on 31 August 2015. Most unfortunate as my mom loved the place and was really happy there. In my opinion, it remains the best dementia care home I have visited. 

I have blogged about my mom's first and second falls and the rehabilitation and care that followed, as well as the costs incurred. The articles can be assessed on SeniorsAloud blog archives for March 2011, and for July 2015.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for such a heartfelt story. But you are blessed with children who will look after you. My husband and I do not have children and we are in the 50s - so we have lots worry - but I am glad that there are many good senior homes around these days.

Happy new year.