Madam Norlela Musa, 49, knows what it is like to care for a family member who has dementia. She attended to her late father-in-law’s medication, medical appointments and made the necessary arrangements for him to live comfortably.

Having been through the process herself, she was motivated to join the Alzheimer’s Disease
Association’s (ADA) Caregiver Support Centre (CSC) as an eldersitter in August last year.

The CSC started a programme called Eldersit Respite Care Service, which aims to engage those with various stages of dementia in meaningful activities at home or at the CSC at Central Plaza in Tiong Bahru.

Madam Norlela, previously a part-time therapist aide and kitchen helper, says: “I entered this line because I realised the difficulties and challenges that main caregivers face and I think I can contribute and share through my experience.”

Through an intensive three-day training workshop and nearly four days of job attachment, she bolstered her understanding of the needs and abilities of persons with dementia (PWD) and the job requisites.

“Being an eldersitter for a dementia client requires one to be creative, fun-loving and good with words,” she says.

An open mind and heart is also vital.

“You have to discover and develop an understanding that they are unique individuals who lived a meaningful life before their illness struck and who deserve respect for who they were instead of looking at them as a person with dementia,” she says.

Indeed, there are times when they surprise her with their creative and physical abilities, emotional expressions and readiness to participate in all the activities. They also have mathematical intelligence, art and craft skills, a sense of humour, and they display affection and appreciation after each session, she says.

Custodian of well-being

As an eldersitter, she provides companionship and cognitive stimulation by engaging her clients in physical and mental stimulation activities.

She also encourages social interaction, helps them with simple exercises and attends to their toileting and personal grooming needs, excluding showering.

At the same time, she updates their primary caregivers and the CSC on the clients’ progress.

For the first three sessions with any client, Madam Norlela — like all eldersitters — is usually guided by a staff member of the ADA or an occupational therapist. Then, based on the clients’ background and the assessment results of their conditions, she tailors their two-hour sessions with her.

“Every client is different so I will prepare the activities that they like, are able to do and which they have done before but have stopped doing for a long time, or introduce simple, yet interesting and fun activities,” says Madam Norlela, who sees three elderly female clients aged between 82 and 92 once or twice weekly.

She typically starts every session with traditional games such as “five stones” or simple physical exercises, using bean bags, balloons and marbles, among other instruments available in an eldersitter’s tool kit.

“We can also do ball-kicking, stretching movements with a Thera-band or play simple table tennis or bowling using plastic bottles,” she says.

There are also art sessions where they draw, colour and paint, or engage in stamping, stenciling, origami or sewing together.

She concludes the session with cognitive and reminiscence stimulation activities such as Sudoku and Tic Tac Toe.

“These activities help in stimulating their mind and recollecting happy memories,” she says, adding that she tries to avoid bringing up their sad stories.

Her job also requires patience, warmth, affection and most importantly, empathy, says Madam Norlela, who also volunteers as a befriender in a hospital’s geriatric department.

For the past one year, her personal, voluntary and working experiences have stood her in good stead, and in turn, she feels the job enriches her life.

She says: “I feel very much at ease doing this job which I do not call work but something that encompasses happy and meaningful activities which I love to do.”