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Photo credit: YOUTHOPIA/KHALISA ZULKIFLEE

Four simple ways I brighten up my grandma’s days

Playing a bigger role in helping my grandma age gracefully makes my days with her more meaningful.

Khalisa Zulkiflee
Khalisa Zulkiflee

Creative writer and comedian on the side.


Published: 20 September 2021, 12:39 PM

My grandma is the person I turned to at every low point I faced in my twenty years of life. When it became apparent that she needed more care, I naturally wanted to reciprocate what she had done for me and became one of her caregivers. 

I head over to her place a few times a week to keep my grandma company during the day, making sure she takes her medications on time and help keep her house clean. When needed, I buy groceries and food for her as well. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, I realised that less of our relatives, especially children and grandchildren, are able to visit her. As her home became less lively, I felt she was getting more lonely. She eats and sleeps less, has more complaints of physical aches and becomes fixated on death.

Knowing that the elderly too are not spared from mental health struggles, I decided to spend more time with my grandma and come up with activities for us to do together.

 

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Loss of social support systems, children leaving home, being single, widowed or divorced are some of the factors that may cause depression in older adults. PHOTO CREDIT: JWWPHOTOGRAPHY VIA UNSPLASH

 

By paying attention to her needs and giving her a comfortable environment at home, I found grandma has become much more relaxed. Here are four ways I keep my grandma’s spirits high.

Learning from her wisdom

I’ve benefited from years of wisdom staying by my grandma’s side. Every lesson that she’s learnt from her childhood days of living in poverty to her years of being a single mother has helped when my family and I were living from paycheck to paycheck. 

For example, she gave me old recipes with ingredients that cost less than $5, and invaluable cooking tips.

 

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I’ve been writing down the recipes handed down to me by my grandma since I was a little girl. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/KHALISA ZULKIFLEE

 

The Notes app on my phone is full of her recipes, though they rarely have any measurements – “You’ll just have to agak-agak to know when it’s enough coconut milk, Suci”. 

I also let her have a bigger role in my life by seeking her advice when making big decisions, such as choosing between going to university or starting to work full-time.

Maybe it’s because she didn’t get to complete her education and had to get married early, but my grandma was most supportive of my decision to go to university. 

“There is no man worth your time now”, she said. 

By turning to my grandma for advice regarding anything from small problems to major life crises, I hope she continues to know that she’s an important part of my life.

Helping her stay connected to family and friends

As I do not stay with my grandma, it can be hard to ensure that she always has companionship. Thankfully, my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins came together to make sure one of us visits her everyday to bring her delicacies and check up on her. 

We also taught her how to use the phone and left a list of contact numbers of her siblings, children and grandchildren for her to call as and when she wants to. 

Knowing that she’s easily connected to her loved ones even when they’re not physically there makes her feel less apprehensive about being home alone. 

 

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My day gets better when my grandma calls me at random times of the day to ask if I’ve eaten, or gotten enough rest. PHOTO CREDIT: YULOKCHAN VIA UNSPLASH

 

Engaging with the community surrounding our elders can also help to decrease their loneliness. My grandma’s neighbours have been a great source of support to her as they often chat with each other when they pass by her house. 

Although her neighbours are Chinese and speak minimal Malay, they still try their best to communicate with her. One of them even went as far as to bring her Indonesian maid along to act as a translator!

Encouraging routine activities

My grandma was always robust, never one to sit still for long. When her grandchildren came over, she would be cooking dishes, frying snacks, sewing clothes. 

However, as she aged, we realised even going to the market could bring pains to her joints and feet.

 

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Going to the market was something my grandma did on a daily basis for over sixty years. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN

 

In the beginning, she felt uneasy and discouraged being more dependent on her family for help. She often sat in her armchair, feeling hopeless about the absence of routine her life once had. 

As we knew that a sedentary lifestyle could eventually lead to loss in mobility in the elderly, we encouraged her to do other easier chores such as chopping up ingredients when cooking, folding clothes and watering the plants.

It doesn’t matter to me if she can do it efficiently or perfectly, as what’s most important is that she remains mentally or physically active. Mild exercise can maintain an elder’s physical ability to do daily tasks, and this not only ensures increased independence, but also confidence and pride in being able to contribute.

Keeping her mentally active

In recent years, my grandma has had to stop going for her religious classes due to arthritis in her knees. Not being able to learn has made her feel unsettled.

With the pandemic, we were also worried that the lack of company would leave her feeling lonely and unstimulated.

 

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In Singapore, the number of elderly living alone has increased from 9.7 per cent to 11.6 per cent between 2016 to 2019. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/DION LIM

 

To replace her classes, my cousins and I taught her how to use YouTube on her television so she can search for similar classes online. 

Although we have gotten many phone calls from my grandma about the confusing buttons on the remote control, it has definitely helped to keep her engaged. 

Like many seniors, my grandma has taken to reminiscing about her younger days of living in a fishing village. In an attempt to relive her memories, my cousins and I would show her videos of Indonesian fishermen sailing out to sea to make a living. 

This would bring about a storytelling session lasting for hours about her kampong days and how she raised her children as a single mother while we eat goreng pisang.

Listening to stories of my family’s history as fishermen living above the sea not only teaches me more about my roots, but also reminds my grandma about the happy times in her life. 

Taking care of my grandma has been nothing short of rewarding for me. Although I cannot ease her physical aches, I still hope to be able to give her a fraction of the comfort and care she provided for me growing up. 

It also has made me aware of the struggles that the elderly may face, and how much they value having us in their lives. Other seniors may not be as lucky as my grandma to have people constantly calling and visiting her. 

If you have some free time and feel inspired to reach out to our silver-haired community, you can visit I Feel Young SG and Homage for volunteering opportunities. 

A simple act of kindness can make a difference in helping our seniors feel less isolated and lonely.


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