The first few months after Madam Mary Lai was diagnosed with dementia were extremely painful for her family.
She had always been fit and healthy. She cleaned and cooked for her two grandchildren, and helped run the household. Even though she was in her 70s, she would tend to the garden and go on long walks.
She would occasionally forget where she placed items, but her family accepted it as a natural part of ageing.
It was only in 2006, after she had difficulty remembering where she placed a sum of money and accused her family of theft, that they considered the possibility of dementia.
"It was difficult for us," said her eldest grandson Shaun Goh, 35. "The person we knew as a strong, iron lady became so weak and vulnerable."
Ms Patsy Chia, 51, Madam Lai's only child, has written about her experience as her mother's caregiver in a book, Burden No More, which she launched last month.
The 110-page book details her journey as a caregiver and aims to encourage and support other caregivers who may be in similar situations. It is available for $30 at www.booksale.patsychia.com
Madam Lai harboured a strong dislike for hospitals, but the family had few options but to admit her for the first two months after the diagnosis, as they knew little about dementia. They eventually moved her into a nursing home.
"She didn't seem to understand what was happening to her, and we struggled to explain it to her as well," said Mr Goh.
Ms Chia added: "One of the most difficult decisions we had to make was to place her in a nursing home.
"We were just not able to care for her the way we wanted to, and, ultimately, it was in her best interest to receive care from professionals."
Over two years, Madam Lai's speech deteriorated, and communication became difficult. However, her family continued to visit her regularly on weekdays, and would take her out on weekends for dim sum and walks at East Coast Park.
In January last year, after seven years in nursing care, the family brought 81-year-old Madam Lai back home, as her mood swings had improved under medication.
Mr Goh said: "We always wanted to bring her back home, and we learnt from the nurses how to better care for her."
Ms Chia noted: "She looks a lot more lively and alert. She used to stare into blank space a lot and was quite inattentive, but now she responds by smiling and laughing. Physical touch really helps, because it says a lot, even without words.
"I learnt a lot looking after my mother for eight years, and struggled with decision-making and emotions such as guilt and frustration. I hope I can reach out to more people and let them know they're not alone."
This article was first published on August 9, 2015.
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