PETALING JAYA: Former Malaysian fighter pilot Captain Mohamed Hussin Mohamed Noor, sits comfortably on his living room sofa surrounded by his family. At 71, it is clear he has not lost his boyish good looks.
He smiles politely and turns his attention to his professional caregiver, Firdaus, seated beside him, and they chatter excitedly.
Occasionally, he gets confused when trying to recollect certain events. He tries his best to remember but falters. These lapses of memory are not unusual, it is one of the signs of dementia.
Sitting comfortably on the carpeted floor, his 41-year-old daughter Shima Hussin, proof that good looks run in the family, says she is used to her father’s faltering memory.
The third of Hussin’s seven children, Shima remembers what her father was like before dementia set in.
“My father always knew he wanted to be a pilot. He used to tell me that as a child, he would go to the aircraft hangar near his house and watch in fascination as the planes took off.
“His love was not just for flying, his passion was the plane itself. He knew and enjoyed learning about every single component of the plane,” Shima tells FMT.
His love for planes and flying took the 18-year-old to the UK, where he enrolled in the Royal Military College (RMC). After learning flying, he pursued a course to become an instructor in Australia.
He returned to Malaysia and served with the Royal Malaysian Air Force as a fighter pilot for a good 15 years, until 1977. Then it was on to the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) where he worked until he was 60.
Never one to sit still for long, Hussin even had a brief stint as a pilot for a minister in Sarawak before finally hanging his pilot’s cap up for good.
“During his time with the DCA, he was the head of calibration, responsible for checking the equipment and ensuring all the planes were in tip-top condition.
“He even represented Malaysia to learn all about the Learjet 60 and brought it back from the US. He received a medal of honour for that. Even at home, he had a dashboard of the plane’s cockpit and he would study every detail of it,” Shima says.
She related to FMT how her dad and mom met all those years ago, saying it was at a party in Taiping and that he was completely smitten by her from the moment he saw her.
“When my mother was still his girlfriend, every Merdeka Day, he would tell her to look up at the sky at a certain time when he would fly past her home. It was love at first sight for him,” Shima says, smiling fondly at her father.
Shima also recalled happy times when the family would watch Top Gun together and Hussin would proudly refer to himself as Maverick, Tom Cruise’s character, getting eye rolls and groans from the family in the process!
When her father was not soaring through the skies in his beloved plane, he occupied his time at home doing odd jobs, building a makeshift treehouse for his children, diving, paragliding and even car drifting.
“He’s always been an adventurous and spontaneous man. He would wake us up at the crack of dawn and say, ‘Let’s go to Slim River’,” laughs Shima.
But five years ago, his life took a heart-breaking turn.
The family began noticing that their once alert and daredevil father was often misplacing things and experiencing memory loss. But when he began to suffer bouts of paranoia, they really got worried.
After a medical check-up at the University of Malaya Medical Centre, they were told Hussin had suffered a minor stroke.
In fact, the doctor told them Hussin had suffered a series of mini-strokes in the past five to seven years until 2015, when his deterioration became apparent.
“So, we engaged with Homage, a caregiving service platform, to come once or twice a week to keep him company and work on a plan to help with his cognitive skills, such as playing board games, drawing and going for morning walks.
“It is good to see that he always looks forward to his time with Firdaus,” Shima says.
From the sofa, Hussin looks lovingly at his family, chatting animatedly with them and even cracking a joke or two. The love this family shares for one another is palpable.
Caring for a loved one with dementia poses many challenges for the patient’s family and caregivers but it is clear that the strong bond the Hussin family have with each other will see them through even the roughest of times.