A caring heart gets her just reward

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Mona Ismail with her husband, Fareed at the 2016 Heart of Home Care Award event.

Moosa Ismail was a people person. The South African-born grandfather loved to dance and have fun. “He was quite a character,” says his daughter-in-law, Mona. “To me, he was just one happy person.” That joyfulness endured even as Moosa developed Alzheimer’s disease and his condition deteriorated. Mona became his constant companion throughout his progressive illness, and her dedication to his care recently earned her the 2016 Heart of Home Care Award from VHA Home HealthCare in the Caregiver to an Adult category.

Moosa’s dementia first became apparent about seven years ago. “He used to go for walks on his own and he took a walk one day and just got lost,” Mona explains. “He was confused and ended up in a store. That’s when the dementia started.”

Mona, a mother of three and a professional caterer, put her career on hold to become her father-in-law’s full-time caregiver. “We didn’t even think about putting him in a nursing home. That wasn’t even part of the equation for us,” she says.

MORE: WHO CARES FOR THE CAREGIVER?

Sharing her father-in-law’s cheerful disposition and quickness to smile and laugh, Mona developed a strong bond with Moosa. Despite his illness, the Ismail household was always a joyful place. She took on the role of nurse at home and at the hospital she was a strong advocate for her father-in-law with medical staff who were sometimes dismissive.

VHA’s Heart of Home Care Award recognizes individuals who go to extraordinary lengths to care for a friend or family member who is disabled, elderly or chronically ill, to enable them to live at home with more independence. The award and event are intended to both show appreciation for these unsung heroes and to draw attention to the need for more system-wide family caregiver support.

“Caregiving is a demanding job not often recognized by the outside world,” says Carol Annett, CEO and President of VHA Home HealthCare. “There are people like Mona across the province. They are the backbone of the healthcare system and they deserve greater respite and support.”

Although Moosa passed away in 2015, Mona’s caregiving continues. Her mother-in-law was recently diagnosed with early stage dementia and Mona has been administering her care. “It has changed me, yes. It’s made me a better person. I can look around me and appreciate [life]. And whatever it was that I had to do, that it is passed on—that makes me happy,” she says. You can view Mona’s video story at http://bit.ly/HeartMona.

Mona’s Tips for Caring for Someone with Dementia:

  • Do what you can to keep your loved one mentally active. For as long as Moosa could, Mona always encouraged her father-in-law to do word puzzles and crosswords to keep his mind stimulated. She played a steady stream of his favourite music throughout her home to help keep Moosa calm, relaxed and to stimulate his memory.
  • Look for “props” that bring your loved one joy. A gift of a toy flower that danced to the beat of music made Moosa light up with delight every time he saw it. “It became his companion,” says Mona. “He loved that flower and it would always make him smile.”
  • Help your loved one maintain a sense of dignity. Though Moosa was initially uncomfortable with Mona performing personal care, she put him at ease by saying, “right now father, pretend I’m your nurse, just like in the hospital.” This “separation” helped Moosa feel comfortable and eased any initial feelings of embarrassment.
  • Trust your instincts. On two occasions Mona felt Moosa wasn’t physically well. After prodding the doctors to investigate further, it turned out in both instances, she was right. “You know the person you’re caring for best,” Mona says.

For more caregiver tips and information visit www.familycaregiving.ca

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