A young caregiver’s raw words to her father with Alzheimer’s
No one taught Melissa how to feel when she watched her dad slowly slip away. Now, she shares her memories to inspire other young caregivers in their journey with dementia.
When Melissa’s Dad was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, she was only 14 years old.
It changed the family dynamics, and she was forced to grow up to take on the responsibility of a caregiver for her Dad. “Our roles reversed,” she said. “I had to be the parent.”
We tend to think of dementia as a condition that primarily affects older persons, and issues of early-onset are often overlooked, including its impact on family members.
For young caregivers like Melissa in Singapore where one in 10 people over 60 has dementia, the challenges they face are unique, especially with having to cope with the struggles of adolescence, alongside competing demands of school and caregiving.
Melissa is working to address this gap through Project We Forgot, a community platform she kickstarted, which offers support for young caregivers of persons with dementia.
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Melissa wished that she was more informed about her Dad’s condition so that she could be a better caregiver, amidst having to come to terms with his memory loss and confusion.
“No one taught us how to feel when we watched you slowly slip away, or how to react when your memories started fading, and you stopped remembering who we were.”
She wrote these words in a letter to her Dad more than ten years later. Had she known better as a teenager, perhaps there could have been more empathy and understanding.
There was no one she could confide in at school, seeing that there was hardly any awareness about issues of dementia amongst her circle of friends and teachers.
With lessons learned from her own experience, Melissa hopes that young caregivers won’t have to feel the same isolation like she did. Through Project We Forgot, they can access resources and be connected with others who are going through similar journeys.
At the same time, Melissa actively reaches out to different institutions around Singapore to help raise awareness and support for the needs of caregivers at school or the workplace.
Meaningful change can only happen when there’s increased public education, she feels.
Reflecting on her journey, Melissa sees a large part of her Dad in who she is now, especially his entrepreneurial spirit, which gave her the impetus to kickstart Project We Forgot.
“I hope that I’m doing you proud, Dad.” She tells him as she ends her letter.