“Saya boleh tahan (I can withstand it).”

One of the most difficult things I’ve embarked on was a series of in-depth interviews with foreign domestic helpers caring for elderly patients with dementia.

While we have seen specific cases highlighted and punished for elderly abuse, many of us have never heard the silent stories of being spat upon, cursed, hit, soiled on, by patients who are ill, day after day after day.

In an aging society where elderly care is continually being outsourced, have we failed to recognize and appreciate the sacrifices made by people we have invited into our homes, no longer as housekeepers, but as companions to our ailing loved ones?

In the face of extreme circumstances, many of them continue day after day, “saya boleh tahan” (I can withstand it), because “I see Ah Gong (Grandpa) like my own father. I know he dementia, old already.”

Those who do not know about the illness, plod on nonetheless, through the sleepless nights of shouting, door-banging, wandering and aimless pacing… which are some manifestations of the illness in its severe stages.

Is it a paradigm shift we need? That perhaps, the privilege and responsibility of caring for our elders remains ours to own as a family and society. That perhaps, there is more we could do to support them, and alleviate the mental burden they carry in this challenging role as caregivers?

Let us appreciate the vital role our helpers play, and recognize the resilience, compassion and dedication they display, to help us care for those we love.

With special thanks to my mentors and friends, for believing in this.

Published in The Straits Times, Singapore, 31 Mar 2018.

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