As our parents enter their golden years, the role of the caregiver in the relationship is often reversed. Singer Kit Chan opens up about becoming a caregiver for her mother who suffered a painful hip fracture, and how it has only strengthened their mother-daughter relationship – as chronicled in a recently-launched osteoporosis campaign.
For Kit Chan, the first few months after her mother’s fall were the hardest.
It happened eight years ago – her mother slipped and fell while she was out, fracturing her hip in the process. One hip operation and numerous tests later, she was diagnosed with osteoporosis, a condition where the bones are weakened and more susceptible to breaking.
This scary diagnosis not only affected Kit’s mother physically, but psychologically as well.
“She would insist on using a walking aid even though she didn’t need it, and developed a habit of walking funny,” the 47-year-old singer recounts.
“We had to be patient and understand that it was a journey that could only be endured through time, encouragement, love and humor.
But for Kit, the silver lining as a caregiver was that the experience brought her mother closer to her and her family, strengthening their familial bond. In fact, Kit considers it a blessing in disguise.
“I call it a blessing because sometimes, you don’t have the chance to take care of them. So I think that when you are able to, whether in terms of resources or timing, that you can look back and say, ‘I’ve done this for my parents.’”
And the approach that her family took towards their caregiving duties is one filled with lots of love and humour.
“We joked that she was like the empress dowager and our family was her security team, constantly checking the road and looking out for curbs,” she adds with a laugh.
For Kit’s family, the hardest part wasn’t the physical recovery, which, with the help of doctors and physiologists, took only about six months. It was, instead, overcoming the psychological barriers of fear, and empowering her mother to be confident and independent once more – a feat that took almost two years.
Understandably, Kit’s mother, whom she described as “strong and independent by nature”, found it hard to accept that she is now vulnerable. Before her fall, she had remained very active, even after retirement. She would go out to buy groceries, cook for the family, and garden for up to two hours every day. After her fall, it was a 180-degree change. She began to think that she needed to sit down all the time, even though she had the doctor’s clearance to be active.
“The complications of osteoporosis, such as following a fracture, can severely affect the patient and their caregiver’s life,” notes Dr Teo Yee Hong from Synergy Orthopaedic Group, Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre. He adds that it can also affect life expectancy. For instance, a hip fracture is associated with a 20 per cent increase in mortality, while a vertebral fracture is associated with a 15 per cent increase in five-year mortality rate.
“You have to protect them, without making them feel useless,” she emphasises. And in a bid to find something to engage her mother, Kit presented her with colouring books. But why?
“I realised that she always had a creative streak, and she likes colour,” Kit explains.
“Her whole face lit up,” recalls Kit with a smile. Now, every Saturday morning is designated colouring time, which they do together before their family lunch.
Kit muses that it was a reversal of roles, with wooing and persuasion in the mix – just like what her mother did with her when she was a child.
For other caregivers, Kit has this to say: Don’t focus on what the care receiver can’t do, but what they can. The last thing you should do is lament how you wish they could do this or that. Instead, be creative and willing to try new things, which will all help in empowering them to be engaged and interested in life. And although it might be difficult, try to stay positive.
Today, Kit’s mum is a lot better accustomed to life with osteoporosis. Though less active, she still goes out every day, and is on a holistic plan that includes medication, diet and exercise.
“I can’t help thinking if this could have been avoided if we had taken preventive measures, such as weight-bearing exercises or bone scans,” says Kit.
Taking her own advice, Kit has remained positive and found a silver lining in all of this.
“This ordeal has brought the family closer. My parents can see their children care for them, and my dad, who was never lovey-dovey or physically affectionate, now holds my mum’s hand everywhere.
My mum and I have a bond that was strengthened during this time because bonds are not just built on good times and good feelings – they’re strengthened in difficult and challenging times.
To find out more on osteoporosis and resources for caregivers, visit fightthefracture.sg.
An educational message by Amgen