Support programme helped young caregiver of elderly parents cope with responsibilities

Caregiver Bridget Vargilia Welford (left) with her mother Eliza Monica De Silva. PHOTO: BRIDGET VARGILIA WELFORD

SINGAPORE - When her father suffered a sudden stroke in 2016, Ms Bridget Vargilia Welford, 34, quit her job in advertising to care for him during the day and worked night shifts as a buffet server at a hotel.

As his condition worsened over the years and he showed symptoms of dementia, she was overwhelmed by the responsibilities and financial constraints at home.

"It was stressful and depressing because I felt like nothing I did was right in his eyes. He was in denial of his ill health," she said.

Life at home became more difficult as Ms Bridget's father began exhibiting signs of dementia, forgetting words and disappearing from home, leaving the family to search for him. He also had delusions of being attacked.

Despite her advice to visit a doctor, he was not willing to seek help. He died at the age of 61 in January 2019.

After his death, Ms Bridget faced health and financial issues of her own and started worrying about her mother, Madam Eliza Monica De Silva, 59.

"I did not have anybody to advise me and I had to figure out my way through trial and error," she said.

Ms Bridget, who lives with three siblings, considered switching to a career in nursing, a field she had been passionate about for many years and which would allow her to better support her family.

She joined an eight-week programme by Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL) for young caregivers of those with dementia, at Bishan Community Club in April, hoping to learn more about dementia and caregiving.

She said: "At the beginning I wondered if I was going to be judged for my views. After so many years of caregiving, obviously you become numb and frustrated. Through this course, I found others had similar experiences and I was able to look for new approaches to help my loved ones or future patients."

Ms Bridget found a group of friends to connect with through the programme, and gained a better understanding of what her father's condition had been.

She plans to apply what she has learnt from the course in her future nursing career at a nursing home for the elderly. She also hopes it will help her care for her mother.

Ms Bridget said: "I found out that playing music or performing cognitive activities like drawing could help dementia patients calm down when they are stressed.

"My biggest takeaway from the course was that self-care is important, because if the caregiver falls sick, both they and the person they are caring for will suffer."

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