I would test Mom

and ask how her day went

after she’d had an outing.

Often I got a blank stare

or a vague reply, as

her memory is fading.

Today was different –

“I had a haircut”, she offered,

“By the usual lady.

She’s been cutting my hair

a long time now”,

she happily told me.




Mom’s smiles

Looking through old photographs of Mom, it becomes obvious to me how much Mom has changed. Many years ago when I was younger, she would hardly pose for photos, “I’m too busy,” she would say, “what do you want a picture for? I’m not dressed for it”. Her smile for the camera, if we could get her to pose, would be an intelligent one, sure of herself.

In more recent years, after the onset of dementia, she often seemed to be laughing and smiling very brightly. I remembered those occasions. When we dined out, she would only give a quick glance at the menu and say, “What are you having?” and then, “I’ll have that  too”. Her indecision extended to other areas, especially dressing, and packing for travelling, “What shall I wear? What should I bring?”. And later on, the questions broadened into, “What do I do now?”

Sometimes I wondered at the overbright smiles, was she hiding her uncertainty? Trying to fit in, being obliging, quick to join in in case a joke had just been made? Or maybe she was just happy, and its just me who was too suspicious because it seemed so out of character.

Nowadays, Mom smiles and laughs easily, she seems almost “ticklish” at times. She’s happy to be alive and looks forward to what the day brings, whatever it might be.


Good morning, Sister! 

Everyday my mom starts her day by greeting me thus.

She calls me Sister only but once a day. The rest of the day I am nobody. But without a doubt I will be Sister once more when morning comes again. It is like a game we play, every day, same time, same place. 

I tried interupting her by boldly saying “Good morning, Mom!” before she can get a word in, but she only laughs and says back, “Good morning, Sister!” 

The Queen and her daughter

Mom was watching TV – the 20th anniversary show on Princess Diana’s death. She looked more engrossed than usual, and actually emotionally affected.

What are you watching? I asked.

It’s about the Queen and her daughter, she said, It’s terrible!

Why? I asked.

The Queen doesn’t like her, and she just died.

It was as though it had just happened. She has no memory how affected she was when Diana passed away 20 years ago.

Mom watches a lot of TV, consisting of whatever the people around her choose to watch, or whatever channel the TV happens to be at when it is switched on for her. She gets excited watching the thrills and spills of Ninja Warriors. She watches homegrown dramas, cooking shows, thrillers, game shows, movie re-runs. Sometimes she surprises me by reading the word off Wheel of Fortune.

She’s happy to go with the flow, watching TV, whatever is playing.

Last night there was a show about unusual local professions, and it featured a young woman embalmer. Her job was to embalm dead persons and put make-up on in preparation for their funerals and wakes. She wore a thick gas mask as she went about powdering and colouring her “client”. I guessed she had to wear the mask because the embalming fluid, formaldehyde, is a poison.

My domestic helper couldn’t understand why the face had to be made up, because in her home country, dead people were neither embalmed nor prettied up. I explained that embalming helped preserve bodies in Singapore’s warm weather until time for the cremation, and the cosmetics were to help the person look more natural. Although truth to tell, in my opinion, the result is almost always most unnatural-looking. Maybe I should let it be known I do not want the thick pancake foundation or garish lipstick applied.

As we watched the show, it occurred to me it might be a good opportunity to ask Mom what her preference was, but I didn’t.



No more subtraction

One day, I decided to be brave and brought Mom out to lunch. It was special because Mom only heads out for medical appointments nowadays. (How did it come to this? Let me think about it and cover this in another post) 

Anyway at lunch I put her to the test – and asked if she could still count. Yes, she could! From one to ten, and then backwards form ten to one, more slowly and with slight errors. She could add single digits, but when I asked her to minus, she couldn’t do this anymore. Ten minus eight is “I don’t know, eight?” Three minus two is… “???” She just couldn’t do it. She knew it sounded easy and was just as puzzled why she couldn’t manage it. 

About 6 years ago, when I first brought Mom for screening because I thought she had early dementia, Mom could minus 7 from 100 all the way down. The tests pronounced her normal, but we knew she was already different.

She can no longer tell her own age nor understand who’s older or younger. But she loves a birthday cake and song, and happily joins in no matter whose it is.

recap review restart 

I haven’t posted for months though the thought often comes to mind. There’s enough to say but I’m not sure where to start again. So here’s a recap, which is also a summary of sorts for myself. 

Mom has dementia and has lived with me several years. She is increasingly homebound as her energy levels are falling and she walks slowly and carefully. She fills her day scanning through newspapers, watching TV and looking out. Sometimes she packs her “stuff”.

I work so I have a helper in my home who keeps Mom company, looks after her and does much of the housework. Singapore has about 300000 such foreign helpers for a population of just under 6 million – these helpers play a huge role in childcare and eldercare. Without her I wouldn’t be able to manage.

Mom is happy and smiles easily, so we’re lucky in that sense. Does she recognize me? Of course! She knows I’m a loved one who looks after her and lives in the house. But words are confused. Daughter-Sister Son-Husband – she knows which are male and which are female. No need to be 100% accurate, they’re all home characters or frequent visitors who love and care for her. She recognizes and remembers people she often sees even though she cannot name them. 

To everyone else (not so close relatives) she says, “I don’t quite remember you.” It often bothers the others so much more than it bothers her. The older folk will be dismayed and distressed. My younger cousins not so, because they can’t imagine it happening to them. I just tell them she can’t remember you because you look so different now! Mom just carries on, smiling, “I don’t remember. So who are you again? No, I don’t have any recollection.” 

Early dementia or…


Early in the flight I heard the stewardess checking on the dietary requirements of the passenger in front of me. “Hello, Mr K, I’m confirming that you requested a vegetarian meal?” “No no,” he said, “I didn’t make any request.”

“Are you Mr. K? It says on your ticket you need a vegetarian meal?”

“No no, I didn’t make any request.”

“Okay, can I bring you a vegetarian meal? Will you have that?”

“No, no. I don’t want vegetarian.”

“Are you not vegetarian, can you eat meat?”

“Yes, anything is okay”

“Would you like me to cancel your vegetarian meal and get you a normal meal then?”

“Yes, ok”.

Half an hour later the lunch cart came round and a different stewardess asked, “Pork or chicken?”

“I can’t take that”, he says, “I’m vegetarian!”

And the stewardess says, “Did you request for a vegetarian meal? There’s no sticker on your seat for a special meal. Ok, let me check with my colleague.”

As she goes off to check (thus delaying MY lunch), I was incredulous at the behaviour of the chap. Was he forgetful or plain bad at communicating or a sociopath out to create trouble?