“When we first learned about my father’s dementia, it was like watching my dad die in front of me. His memories were being taken away everyday. He won’t remember things that he cares about. And as his memories disappear, he disappears little by little. Sometimes he forgets me and I’ll need to re-introduce myself – ‘It’s me, Richard. Your son.’ There will be a point someday when he doesn’t fully remember me. It’s going to be tough. It’s especially tough on my mom. Taking care of my dad is like raising another kid. She’s 82 years old. She can’t do it.
On the flip side, we laugh about the silly things that he says. What’s good about my father is that he knows he has dementia. He will joke and around and say ‘Sorry, my Alzheimer’s makes me forget things.’ He laughs all the time. He says he loves me every thirty minutes. He hugs and kisses me. Now, I don’t say anymore that he’s dying in front of me. I say that he’s being reborn. He is being this person that loves life. He has no worries in the world.
As a journalist, we’re somehow equipped to dive into situations quickly. I’m preparing for the moment when he doesn’t fully remember me anymore. I’m engaging it head on. I’m not running away from it. This is life. As a family, we have to answer the tough questions: What’s the right time to bring in full-time care? Do we remove them from the house and move them to another facility? How do we talk about this with our mom, so that she is not emotionally impacted in a severe way? How do we lead her to that place? What can we afford – monetarily and emotionally?
I try to go back to visit my dad and mom in San Francisco once a week from New York City. Sometimes, it’s to help with the day-to-day needs of my dad. Sometimes, it’s just me being with my mom so that she can speak to an adult normally. This dementia, although I wish it didn’t happen, is what we have been given. I have to accept that this is part of our daily existence. Accepting helps us enjoy what we do have everyday.”
Caregiving for aging adults among Asian Americans comes with cultural attitudes, beliefs, and practices that can be starkly different from those of the general population. Many of these adults are immigrants who struggle adjusting to a new environment and the acculturated lifestyle of their children. As their friends, loved ones, and healthcare providers, how can we give the kind of care that respects their traditional cultures while meeting their most basic needs?