"Out of desperation” might not seem the most complimentary way to describe the inspiration behind an enrichment centre but those were the exact sentiments Deirdre Low felt when the seed of an idea for Caring With You — named after the initials in her mother’s name, Choy Wor Yeng — was first planted. Founder and CEO Low shares how a traumatic incident spurred her into coming up with a better option for herself and families in similar positions.
“Mum was diagnosed in 2011, she was 78 then, but the dementia got really bad in 2014. She’d gone out to play mahjong one day and couldn’t find her way home after that. She drove her car until it ran out of petrol, abandoned it by the wayside and started walking in the dark. If it hadn’t been for the kindness of a taxi driver who’d noticed her and driven her for hours — [from] late at night to early morning — until she recognised Gleneagles Hospital in Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, god knows what would have happened,” she recalls. “I was working in Singapore, got the call from the hospital where, thankfully, she had records. She was brought home safely. I quit my job as regional head of finance not long after and came home for good. I had never gone through such stress in my life.”
As her mother’s condition deteriorated, friends rallied around offering help and suggestions. But it was Helen Kok, co-founder and chairman of Caring With You, who insisted that they visit numerous centres in Australia. Only then did the duo get a clearer picture of how dementia patients could be better cared for. “We visited so many homes,” says Low, “and we saw how the people there were the happiest. It was all small set-ups — nothing too big — but friendly, safe places. When we got back to Malaysia and looked at [other] options, what we saw confirmed that there were none to which I would even consider sending my mum. Helen then asked, if she offered to help, would I consider opening one?”
Two years on, Caring With You in Bukit Damansara, KL, is a unique entity focused on enriching the lives of dementia patients (of which Alzheimer’s is the most common) through meaningful activities accompanied by personal and professional care within a safe, friendly environment. It has also been proven that unlike traditional home care, patients with dementia do better when immersed in a holistic social framework. Caring With You works to achieve this via a range of cognitive, physical, social and sensory activities that are supervised by a certified team of six full-time professional staff. “We have 45 ‘clients’ but never [host] more than 15 at a time in the centre,” adds Low. “We offer two sessions, from 9am to 12.30pm and 1pm to 4.30pm. We are not babysitting but enriching,” she stresses. Activities offered, depending on the severity of the dementia, may include arts and crafts, music therapy, cue card games and — perhaps the most beneficial of all to the human soul — care, conversation and companionship.
“When you see the patients’ self-esteem boosted or when they regain the courage to speak up even about the simple things or the discovery of lost abilities and past interests, or when they feel they still have a role to play in society, we know we’ve made a difference,” says Kok. “We are also here to help families rebuild relationships and communication channels through this difficult period. After all, statistics show that one in 20 Malaysians above the age of 65 will suffer from dementia and this is something that doesn’t discriminate — be it race, education or gender.”
Plans are currently under way for a second centre in KL and Low, who still holds a full-time job, acknowledges her chosen vocation is not the easiest. “But after two years, I know there is so much fulfilment in caring for the aged with dementia,” she says. “This was something I didn’t know until I started doing it and that’s why I don’t find it a burden juggling both work and the centre. We are just trying to push the boundaries of this unmet need, which is to raise the level of care for dementia sufferers and of dementia awareness in KL.”
Cook for a Cause works on the premise of the chef-host providing the entire meal, from ingredients to preparation and drinks, although guests may also BYO (bring your own) without corkage fees. The menu is entirely up to the chef-host with only a “no pork” rule in place. Yuu @ Cilantro or Umi @ Sage will sponsor the use of the location and facilities as well as support services in the form of assistant chefs and wait staff. The chef-host will agree on a fixed donation per head from each of his guests, although a minimum of RM1,500 per person is encouraged, after which gross proceeds will be channelled directly to the charity or charities of the chef-host’s choice or via The Edge Media Group, which is Cook for a Cause’s official media partner.
The guest chef:
Tan Boon Lee, deputy CEO of IGB Bhd and founder of the Cook for a Cause charity platform
Cold cappellini with amaebi, ikura and salmon; watermelon salad with feta cheese, capers, Italian parsley and balsamico; Surf ‘n’ Turf platter of prawns, grilled fish and Tomahawk steaks; and salted caramel cake by Fat Boy Bakes with vanilla ice cream
Glen Scotia Victoriana single malt scotch whisky
The event raised a total of RM30,000, which will go to Caring With You dementia enrichment centre. A second centre is scheduled to open at the end of the year in the Ampang-Cheras area. Please contact (03) 2011 1806 or email [email protected] for more information or if you would like to assist at the centres.
This article first appeared on Apr 29, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.