10,000 trained to spot and help those with dementia

SMRT service ambassador Lim Yen Ling said training from the Forget Us Not initiative has enabled her to better identify and assist people with dementia in the midst of a chaotic peak-hour crowd.
SMRT service ambassador Lim Yen Ling said training from the Forget Us Not initiative has enabled her to better identify and assist people with dementia in the midst of a chaotic peak-hour crowd.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

They include front-line staff, as part of efforts to raise awareness in society

When a home owner found an elderly stranger trying to enter her Woodlands flat with a key, she called a local grassroots leader.

"She asked me what to do," said 51-year-old consultant James Lim. "I suspected it could be a senior with dementia so I told her to stay calm and not to do anything while I went over.

"I spoke to him in Hokkien to put him at ease and told the crowd of neighbours who were milling around to give him some personal space so that he would not get more disorientated or agitated."

  • Dealing with disease

  • SIGNS

    • Looks lost and confused

    • Speaks incoherently

    • Shouts or hits out

    • Sees or hears things that are not real

    • Accuses others of stealing their things

    • Repeats action that appears purposeless

    • Removes clothes

    WHAT TO DO

    • Talk to them using clear and simple language

    • Be patient and acknowledge their concerns

    • Use visual cues such as pictures or drawings to understand their needs

    • Look for next-of-kin contact details on identification cards

    • Call the next-of-kin, security guard or police

  • • For more information, go to www.forgetusnot.sg 

    A dementia trainer's guide, tailored for the specific needs of industries such as banks, transport, retail and food and beverage, as well as places of worship, is also being developed.

  • 10%

    How many aged 60 and above who have dementia

  • 50%

    How many aged 85 and above who have dementia

Although the man could not recall who he was or where he lived, police later managed to contact his daughter. It turned out that the elderly man had mistaken that flat to be his on the same floor, but a few blocks away.

Mr Lim is one of more than 10,000 people in Singapore who have been trained to spot those with dementia, interact with them and refer them to aid agencies, if needed. They include front-line staff from transport companies, banks, retailers and public organisations, as well as school students and mosque and church members.

As people around the world mark World Alzheimer's Day today, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) and the Lien Foundation are also spearheading local efforts to raise awareness of dementia in the community. Since last year, they have been encouraging workers from organisations and members of the public to sign up and be trained as a "dementia friend".

Their Forget Us Not initiative started by training 2,000 people in Yishun. The area was chosen to test out the concept of a dementia-friendly community because it has a significant number of elderly residents as well as a geriatric centre at KTPH to support them.

One in 10 people aged 60 and above in Singapore has dementia and the condition strikes half of those aged 85 and beyond, according to findings from a large-scale study released by the Institute of Mental Health last year.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said last year that tackling dementia needs to go beyond having the "hardware" - such as infrastructure - to fostering stronger community support and creating dementia- friendly communities.

Other countries such as Britain and Japan have already trained millions of people in local towns on basic dementia recognition and care.

With the training, it is hoped that the social isolation and stigma associated with dementia can be reduced. So, if a person with dementia gets lost, a policeman or student can show him the way home. Or, if the person takes items from a supermarket without paying, the staff will not assume he is shoplifting.

So far, selected staff from 49 organisations, such as the National Library Board, Sheng Siong supermarket, Bedok Police Division, SMRT, Nanyang Polytechnic and DBS Bank, have undergone the training.

SMRT service ambassador Lim Yen Ling, 44, said the training enables her to better identify people with dementia in the midst of a chaotic peak-hour crowd.

Over the last few months, for instance, she has been noticing that a regular elderly commuter would repeatedly check the rail network map and ask her if the train is heading towards Ang Mo Kio.

So each time she sees him, she would reassure him that he is on the right platform and alert a fellow passenger on the train to keep a look out for him and ensure that he alights at Ang Mo Kio.

Grassroots leader Mr Lim and Nanyang Polytechnic student Nattasha Alvinur, 17, found the training so useful that it prompted them to organise their own awareness talks.

Mr Lim subsequently arranged one for his Woodlands residents and Ms Alvinur, together with 29 other students, formed a group that conducts regular talks on dementia in schools. So far, they have shared the dementia message with more than 2,000 teenagers.

Said Ms Alvinur: "I have a grand-aunt with dementia and when she got lost, not many people would help her. Those who help only know how to drop her off at a police station. With greater awareness, I hope people can grow old in a safer and friendlier environment."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline '10,000 trained to spot and help those with dementia'. Print Edition | Subscribe