You are never alone

Richard (right) sharing a tender moment with his adoptive father, 85-year-old John Ashworth (left).

WHEN Mr Richard Ashworth's world crumbled from the stress of looking after his dementia-stricken adoptive father, he found himself on the brink of suicide. Fortunately, the 64-year-old retiree was pulled out of the pits of despair with the support of the Alzheimer's Disease Association, Singapore (ADA). Having been given a second lease of life, Mr Ashworth is now determined to use his experience and guide others on a journey that is often fraught with emotional and physical stress. Read Richard's story here:

"Growing up, I suffered from a strong inferiority complex. I could not speak a word of English and my family was extremely poor. My parents had 12 children and our family of 14 lived in a one-room flat. I was very timid and dared not speak to others in school. 

All that changed when my dad, John Ashworth, adopted me in 1975. He patiently coaxed me out of my shell, taught me English and made me memorise an English word every day. I still remember that 'indubitably' was the first word he taught me. It took me so long to pronounce that word! Besides helping me to improve my English, he also encouraged me to submit my sculptures for competitions when I was studying sculpturing and doubted my abilities.

My dad is someone with a very big heart and I am extremely grateful to him for all that he has given me. That's why I decided to be his caregiver when he was diagnosed with dementia six years ago.

It began with him losing his way while driving. As a former ship captain, he always had excellent navigation skills, so his sudden poor sense of direction was a red flag. He was also extremely patient but his temper worsened and we got into frequent arguments. It did not occur to me that he had dementia until a concerned neighbour spoke to me. I contacted ADA and the staff confirmed the worst.

When I first took on the role of caregiver, I felt helpless. My weight plunged and I was barely recognisable to my friends. I attempted suicide by jumping off the ledge because the stress was so unbearable. Thankfully, ADA sent their staff to counsel and help me through one of the darkest periods of my life. 

Now, I try my best to show my dad more love and help him enjoy his golden years. Sometimes, I hold his hand and talk to him; that makes him very happy. Other times, I get him his favourite food like fish and chips, egg tarts and mango pudding. Due to his dementia, my dad can get violent but I forgive him for his behaviour and shower him with more tender loving care. 

Richard and John Ashworth_1
I've got your back... Richard has no qualms about providing his dad with the best care.

I am very open to sharing about my dad's condition. At a South West Community Development Council sharing session, I told a group of caregivers how my dad once defecated at a supermarket and I had to clean up after him. A lady approached me after my talk to share that she used to feel ashamed of her dementia-stricken parent's behaviour. My story helped her realise that she wasn't alone in this caregiving journey. 

My dad's illness has highlighted the importance of advanced care planning. This is why I have already prepared my will.

It may be stressful being a caregiver but there are also undeniable joys. My dad loves singing oldies and is happy in his own world. His favourite song is P.S. I Love You by Frank Sinatra. Sometimes, in a moment of lucidity, he takes my hand and tells me with tears in his eyes, 'Thank you very much for taking care of me. I don't know how to live without you. Thank you for being so kind'.

Richard and John Ashworth_2
Touch of love... in a rare moment of lucidity, John thanks his son for his care.

Whenever that happens, the struggles, pain and challenges I have endured fade away."

Article published on: 17/9/2018