Community effort crucial in helping those with dementia

It is heartening to read about efforts to make the local community more dementia-friendly (24-hour dementia go-to point opens in Yishun; Sept 11).

There are 58 points around the island where lost and wandering people with dementia can be taken by members of the public.

However, much of the effort is at the institutional level.

Local citizenry can do much more.

To begin with, we can reduce the stigmatisation of dementia as a mental illness by using the term "people with dementia", instead of "demented people".

According to figures by the Alzheimer's Disease Association, there are more than 20,000 people with dementia aged over 65 years in Singapore.

Over the next three years, this number will double and it is projected to exceed 50,000 in 2020.

This means that we will encounter and live with more people with dementia in our everyday life.

How then can we even identify a lost and wandering person with dementia, and not mistake him for a mentally unsound individual?

If the public can be made more aware of the symptoms of dementia, we are more likely to send the lost and wandering person with dementia to the go-to points, rather than call the police to report a mentally unsound person.

The latter approach will create more distress to the person with dementia, and may lead toinappropriate behaviour.

This shows that public education on what dementia is and how to relate to people with dementia is a pertinent starting point to create a dementia-friendly society.

Apart from national campaigns to promote greater understanding, staff who have contact with the public, such as bus drivers and police officers, can be trained to relate to and help people with dementia.

How to care for this group of people can also be an optional module for foreign domestic workers.

When informal care is lacking, especially for older people with dementia who are single, divorced, widowed or childless, or those whose caregivers are tied up with multiple roles, community support becomes even more crucial.

Amberyce Ang Xing Yee (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2017, with the headline 'Community effort crucial in helping those with dementia'. Print Edition | Subscribe