Caring for the Caregiver

Categories: Care, Featured, and People & Places.

“When my parents were diagnosed with cancer in the same year, I was surprised at the lack of end-of-life resources for the public. Without anyone to rely on, I felt very alone and helpless indeed,” recalled Ms Lam on the physical and mental stress of being a caregiver.

Inadequate end-of-life resources mean caregivers often must face their challenges alone.

In 2018, Ms Lam had just been informed of her father’s lung cancer diagnosis when she received news that her mother had colon cancer and mild dementia. At the time, Ms Lam had resigned from her job to help with her son’s studies, but soon found herself struggling to take care of two families.

Despite using public healthcare, the monthly medication expenses were high, resulting in increased financial pressure on Ms Lam.

Overcome with Helplessness

For almost five days a week, Ms Lam accompanied her parents to every follow-up visit and examination at the hospital, leaving little time to tend to her duties at home. The physical toll of caregiving caused Ms Lam to suffer from multiple injuries, insomnia, weight loss and even the development of gynecological diseases for which she underwent two surgeries. Despite using public healthcare, the monthly medication expenses were high, resulting in increased financial pressure on Ms Lam’s husband.

After a distressing hospitalization experience during the pandemic, Ms Lam’s father was fearful to return to public hospitals and only wished to depart peacefully. “As difficult as it was to contemplate my father’s death, I had to search for an alternative solution,” said Ms Lam. “Due to the pandemic, most facilities did not allow family visitation, with the exception of the Jockey Club Home for Hospice. We were so relieved to see my father’s mood improve after being admitted. He spent the last months of his life there before passing away peacefully with us at his bedside.”

Determine the Final Chapter of Life

Saying goodbye to a loved one is never easy and Ms Lam’s mother developed depression shortly after. Upon learning that Ms Lam’s mother was experiencing severe insomnia and depressive symptoms, the assigned home care nurse explained that caregivers often needed support too. “We start by treating any physical symptoms that may be present before addressing the psychological issues. With dementia patients, we will seek medical advice from psychiatrists and refer them to the appropriate community services.” To further improve her mood, a palliative care assistant was arranged to assist Ms Lam’s mother with simple stretching exercises on a regular basis.

After experiencing the many struggles of caregiving, Ms Lam learned a valuable lesson on life and death. “Everything that has happened is a reminder that death is inevitable. I must focus on what I can control, which is to educate myself on elderly care planning and advance directives so that I can determine the final chapter of my own life.”

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This information was published with permission from The Society for the Promotion of Hospice Care. You can click here to read their newsletter as well as the Mandarin text for this article.

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