Hospitals gear up for spike in dementia cases

Dementia clients and their caregivers making pineapple tarts as part of a cooking therapy class in a mock-up kitchen at ADA's training centre in Bendeemer Road. Cooking is used as a tool to bond and jog memories.
Dementia clients and their caregivers making pineapple tarts as part of a cooking therapy class in a mock-up kitchen at ADA's training centre in Bendeemer Road. Cooking is used as a tool to bond and jog memories.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

IMH to open homely wards with 'memory cubby holes' by bedside for patients

New facilities for dementia patients are being launched as hospitals and help agencies gear up for a surge in the number of people who seek earlier help for the disease.

Next month, the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) will open its wards specially for dementia patients.

Designed to create a homely environment, the wards lead to a garden. There will be "memory cubby holes" installed by the bedside for patients to place cherished items that may help trigger their memory.

The colours and materials of furniture in the wards are specially selected to provide a calming environment.

Alzheimer's Disease Association (ADA), one of the key voluntary welfare organisations here that champion dementia issues, is also launching a unique day-care centre in Tiong Bahru next month with a similar aim in mind.

Family members can help in the rehabilitation of their loved ones suffering from the disease by interacting with them in a mock-up apartment at the centre.

It comes complete with a living room and a pantry, where staff can train dementia clients and their caregivers in a realistic home environment.

The association has also created a similar mock-up apartment at its existing training centre in Bendemeer Road.

Toilets are fitted with a coin-lock system that enables a caregiver to open them using a coin from the outside should an elderly dementia patient find himself locked in.

Shared cupboards are designed such that one half with see-through panels is set aside for a person with dementia to allow him to pick out clothes easily. The other half, belonging to his caregiver, is painted white to blend with the walls.

The aim is to draw attention away from the caregiver's clothes and minimise confusion for the person with dementia.

The plans by IMH and ADA come amid a surge in the number of people who suffer from dementia in Singapore.

Around 28,000 Singaporeans aged 60 and above have dementia, and the number is projected to hit 80,000 by 2030.

Hospitals say more people are seeking help earlier, hoping to impede the progress of the disease. At Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, for example, the average age of patients who are diagnosed with dementia is about 70 to 75 years old now, compared with 75 to 80 years old a decade ago.

Half of the some 250 to 300 new patients that the hospital handles now are in the early stages of the disease compared with 20 to 30 per cent of the 150 new cases seen 10 years ago.

The National University Hospital (NUH) is also seeing a similar trend.

"Ten years ago, many families attributed memory problems as a normal consequence of ageing and would refuse further assessment," said Dr Reshma Merchant, a geriatrician at NUH.

Now, family members are consulting doctors earlier once their loved ones have "subtle memory issues", such as misplacing keys or repeating questions, she added.

Dr Philip Yap, senior consultant at the department of geriatric medicine at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, said the focus now should be on taking better care of dementia patients once they have been diagnosed.

"As there is no cure on the horizon, we need to build better health and social care infrastructure to cope with the rising tide," he said.

jantai@sph.com.sg