Rethink how we care for the aged

A recent commentary suggested that the current institutional model for nursing homes can be disabling for seniors and does not support their autonomy and dignity ("Would you want to grow old in today's nursing homes?"; last Tuesday).

As our population ages, the number of people suffering from dementia is expected to rise.

More urgency in researching this area can be expected.

However, it is equally important to do research and prepare the healthcare system and community to provide better care for people with dementia.

There are two reasons underlying the need for a more integrated and comprehensive approach in dementia care.

First, the stark reality is that most forms of dementia have no known cure, and are progressive, disabling and, eventually, terminal. Second, the interest in prevention and early recognition as well as the diversity and number of people with cognitive impairment would mean greatly increased care needs.

The commentary made a case for person-centred care that prioritises relationship-building and autonomy for those with dementia. Indeed, dementia affects people through the deterioration of personal stimuli and loss of friendships, social contact and self-significance.

As the commentary noted, the goal of care should be to provide a humane environment and long-term care for dementia patients so as to let them thrive emotionally and socially.

If our society does not move towards helping our seniors age gracefully and with dignity, we will suffer a loss of humanity and charity in the pursuit of economic progress.

Wee Shiou Liang (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline 'Rethink how we care for the aged'. Print Edition | Subscribe