What it’s really like being a caregiver for the elderly in Malaysia

Jane Yap (in blue) looks after a care recipient in her home. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Jane Yap (in blue) looks after a care recipient in her home. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

PETALING JAYA, July 4 — Looking after the elderly presents physical and mental challenges that would test even the hardiest of individuals.

It’s something Homage Care Professionals Jane Yap and Jeyyanthi Tamilselvam are all too familiar with.

The duo recently pulled back the curtain on their jobs to give Malaysians an insight into looking after elderly folks, many of whom suffer from illnesses such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Poor memory as a result of such diseases can lead to care recipients (CRs) being overly wary of nurses and caregivers who come in to look after them.

It’s one of the many hurdles healthcare professionals have to overcome when dealing with senior citizens.

Trust is essential

Yap is experienced in several caregiving duties such as meal preparation, feeding, diaper-changing, and showering. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Yap is experienced in several caregiving duties such as meal preparation, feeding, diaper-changing, and showering. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Yap explained how she always packs her belongings in a see-through bag to ensure clients can see exactly what she brings in and out of the house with her.

“To them, we are strangers at first. They have a lot of personal belongings at home that they’re protective over, especially when it comes to CRs with dementia where one of the common symptoms is suspicion,” she told Malay Mail.

The caregiver recalled an incident where a CR with dementia stopped her from leaving after seeing a blood pressure monitor in her bag and thinking that Yap was stealing from her, only for Yap to point to the CR’s own monitor on the desk behind her.

Being part of Homage helps caregivers navigate such incidents by having detailed and real-time documentation of each visit to a CR’s home through the Homage app.

Jeyyanthi added that it’s not unheard of to experience abuse in this line of work, making the presence of platforms like Homage essential to mediate such cases.

“CRs have their mood swings and tantrums and it can vary from day-to-day. One day, they can be cheerful and the next day, they’ll be very grumpy.

“When you are alone in someone else’s home, there are also cases where we receive physical and verbal abuse.

“That’s where Homage comes into place so we can have a team to back us up and speak on our behalf.”

A fulfilling career

Jeyyanthi (in blue) says that helping a CR to live comfortable lives by aging in place is one of the many rewarding aspects of the job. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
Jeyyanthi (in blue) says that helping a CR to live comfortable lives by aging in place is one of the many rewarding aspects of the job. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

While caring for the elderly can be an arduous task, both Yap and Jeyyanthi agree that the rewards are worth it, especially when CRs show appreciation for their work.

“Some of them really look forward to our visits and will wait at the door if they know I am coming.

“More than anything, the emotional bond we form with them and seeing them progress and recover in some cases is very rewarding,” said Jeyyanthi.

Yap added that a task as simple as engaging in small talk with a CR not only brings them closer with their caregiver, but it also helps to distract them from any bodily aches they may be experiencing.

“A lot of the communication we have is spontaneous and there are no ‘scripts’ we repeat with other CRs.

“We do our best to keep them occupied, especially if they are going through some sort of chronic pain.

“If you can get them to focus on doing something else like chit-chatting, for example, they tend to forget about their pain and before you know it, three hours have flown by.”

Dealing with grief

A caregiver can play a vital role in helping family members deal with the passing of a loved one. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
A caregiver can play a vital role in helping family members deal with the passing of a loved one. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

The strong bond that forms as a result of these interactions can have a deep emotional impact on caregivers when a CR passes away.

Jeyyanthi revealed that she cried a lot during the first few years of becoming a nurse for the elderly.

“Initially, it was very difficult whenever a CR passed away because I’m a very emotional person.

“We tend to form emotional bonds with long-term clients and we start feeling like we’re part of their family, so when we lose them I do tend to shed a few tears.

“Over time, I did grow and learn to accept that life and death is a part of the human experience.”

Some people choose to walk the lonely road when it comes to caring for an elderly relative, but it’s times like these where having a support system is more essential than ever.

Homage head of expansion in Malaysia Kevin Hoong said that Care Professionals can lend a much-needed helping hand to families through the grieving period.

“As much as the CR needs care and emotional support, in situations like this, the family members might also need someone to listen to them.

“Sometimes our caregivers end up playing that role and will support and listen to any worries the family might have.

“We want to come up with a way for family members and primary caregivers to have a support network and share experiences so they know they’re not alone in this.”

Yap doing exercises with a CR in the living room. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Yap doing exercises with a CR in the living room. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

While many may remain skeptical over homecare, Jeyyanthi encouraged both healthcare providers and clients to look into platforms like Homage which can provide security and ease by doing thorough background checks on caregivers and matching them with the right clients.

The demand for eldercare is expected to soar as Malaysia goes on to become a grey-haired nation.

The number of people aged 60 and up in the country is projected to hit 6.3 million by 2040, making the work done by the likes of Yap and Jeyyanthi that of unsung heroes.

To find out more about Homage’s services, visit their official website.

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