Global movement to help sufferers

Elderly residents go through a 1.5 hour long Dementia Prevention Programme at Queenstown CC.
Elderly residents go through a 1.5 hour long Dementia Prevention Programme at Queenstown CC.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

In recent years, large-scale projects to help dementia patients have taken off in Britain, Japan and the US. Last year, a Dementia Friendly America Initiative - announced at the White House Conference on Ageing - drew participation from more than 50 groups seeking to create such communities across the United States.

Six pilot programmes are up and running in Colorado, California, Arizona, West Virginia, Maryland and Tennessee. Nine more are planned for this year.

Volunteers in all sectors are trained to help. Waiters at restaurants, for instance, learn to recognise common signs of dementia in customers such as using incorrect words or becoming agitated easily. They are then trained to respond in a calm and friendly way.

Bank tellers, meanwhile, learn to politely ask elderly patrons for an emergency contact, so that if they try to withdraw a large sum of money or become disoriented over the cheque book, the teller has someone to notify.

Britain has about one million people trained in basic dementia recognition and care since its Dementia Friends campaign started in 2013. The target is to have four million Dementia Friends by 2020.

Japan's Dementia Friends network comprises six million people, with a target of eight million by 2025.

Another significant project is the SOS Wanderers Network which links Japanese cities and towns, making it easier to search for persons who are lost because of dementia. The network, which covers more than half of Japan, involves people in the neighbourhood keeping an eye on those who wander.

In 2014, 10,322 people with dementia were deemed missing in Japan, with 388 eventually found dead.

Some of these networks take reference from the Belgian city of Bruges, a global pioneer in dementia-friendly communities. About 90 dementia-friendly shops in the city display a logo of a knotted red handkerchief that signifies to people with dementia, especially those in the early stages, that staff can offer help.

More than 7,000 dementia guides, or small booklets with communication tips, are distributed and basic two-hour training sessions provided to frontline staff.

The Bruges' police force has a database of residents prone to wandering, so it can help redirect them.

Janice Tai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2016, with the headline 'Global movement to help sufferers'. Print Edition | Subscribe