Dementia-friendly society 'crucial for ageing well'

Minister stresses need to raise awareness, build suitable infrastructure and focus on research

Tackling dementia on "a few fronts" is the key to helping Singaporeans age well, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

This includes raising awareness about the condition, building infrastructure suited to people who have it, and focusing research on how to delay its onset.

"While it is important for us to focus on the 'hardware', it is even more important for us to foster stronger community support and create dementia-friendly communities," Mr Gan said.

He was speaking at the Alzheimer's Disease Association's (ADA) 25th anniversary symposium held at the Concorde Hotel .

In Singapore, dementia affects an estimated one in 10 people aged over 60. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting over 70 per cent of patients.

Yesterday, Mr Gan highlighted the example of Chong Pang, where the Agency for Integrated Care and Alexandra Health System have been working to pilot such a community.

Their task was to make sure everyone in the area - from retailers to primary school pupils - had a basic understanding of the condition and how to help those with it cope.

Chong Pang has around 50,000 residents, 20 per cent of whom are aged above 65. An estimated 1,000 of these seniors have dementia, and may run into problems when going about their daily chores.

For example, said Dr Philip Yap, senior consultant and director of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital's geriatric centre, they may often unintentionally shoplift or withdraw the same amount of money several times a day due to their failing memories. They also have a tendency to get lost on public transport.

His team has been working with security guards and bank staff to help them spot such warning signs.

"For example, if someone comes repeatedly to draw money, perhaps alarm bells should ring," Dr Yap said. "We teach (the staff) to be patient and to help calm them down."

He has also been working with primary schools, hoping pupils will share what they learn with their parents. "Many people have heard of dementia, but are not altogether familiar with the manifestations."

Yesterday, the ADA also shared findings of a focus group discussion it held to find out how many people think Singapore is dementia-friendly. Of the 91 surveyed, almost nine in 10 said they felt Singapore was not dementia-friendly at all, according to ADA chief executive Jason Foo.

One of the issues highlighted was the way that places and buildings change very quickly in Singapore.

Said Mr Foo: "As we advance, we change things and we forget that there's this group of people who cannot keep up."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2015, with the headline 'Dementia-friendly society 'crucial for ageing well''. Print Edition | Subscribe