CELEBRATING CAREGIVING

He shut down businesses to take care of wife

Caregivers, patient advocates, volunteer groups were among those lauded for their compassion, empathy, resilience and generosity of spirit at the sixth annual Singapore Patient Action Awards

Mr Nicholas Sim is prepared to take care of his wife, who has dementia and is now in an almost vegetative state, for as long as he has to, rather than put her in a nursing home.
Mr Nicholas Sim is prepared to take care of his wife, who has dementia and is now in an almost vegetative state, for as long as he has to, rather than put her in a nursing home.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

When his wife was diagnosed with moderately severe young onset dementia in 2012 at age 55, Mr Nicholas Sim said their world came "crashing down".

In two years, her condition deteriorated quickly and she is now in an almost vegetative state, unable to move much or speak.

After her diagnosis, his wife was very depressed, said Mr Sim, 66.

Once, in the middle of the night, he woke up when he heard her crying. "She said it was because she was afraid that one day she may forget about me," he said.

Mr Sim said he believes his wife still recognises him now, though she is not able to communicate with him.

He is home most of the time, after closing down his executive search and human resources training businesses in 2015 to better care for her. He now does freelance human resource management consulting and training, which gives him more flexibility with his work hours.

He has a domestic helper Cheryl - a "first-class home manager" - who helps care for his wife, such as feeding and bathing her. Feeding can take up to two hours, as she will sneeze intermittently.

"I used to bathe her, because I wanted to protect her dignity, but now that I'm older, it is too strenuous, and I worry that if I fall, then she will fall," said Mr Sim.

He added that he did not want to place his wife in a nursing home, and is prepared to take care of her for as long as he has to.

He has also rejected the idea of a hospital bed that some have suggested, as he wants to sleep in the same bed as her to be by her side, he said.

The couple have two sons, aged 24 and 27, who live with them in their five-room Housing Board flat in Sengkang.

Once a week since 2015, Mr Sim takes his wife to Care Library, a programme by Care Community Services Society that provides therapy for dementia patients.

His wife enjoys the music hour there, he said.

But the stress of caregiving does take a toll, as he feels he has to put up a strong front when he is with his wife - to keep her spirits up even though she is not lucid.

To cope, he finds strength in his faith, as well as in his work, which he loves. "I hope my story encourages other caregivers to keep going. It's been eight years and it was and still is not easy," said Mr Sim. "It is a learning journey to be a caregiver. In a situation like that, don't ask why, ask what, and every day, just do the best that you can do."

For his strength, resilience, and unwavering dedication in caring for his wife, he received the Singapore Patient Caregiver Award earlier this month.

But to Mr Sim, the award is not a recognition for himself. "It is in honour of, and represents all caregivers, and also helps other new caregivers stay positive."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2020, with the headline 'He shut down businesses to take care of wife'. Subscribe