SINGAPORE - Since it was his first time on the Istana grounds, Mr Lew Chin Hoo, 77, wanted to soak in everything.
As he walked through the sweeping grounds, he listened intently to gardening enthusiasts from the Volunteer Gardeners@Istana scheme explain the history of the Orchid and Ginger gardens.
Mr Lew, who was diagnosed with dementia in March last year, learnt that Singapore is the only country to have a hybrid, the Vanda Miss Joaquim, as its national flower.
He said in Mandarin with a broad grin: "I've never seen such a beautiful garden before."
To round off the visit, he had lunch with President Halimah Yacob.
Mr Lew was among 17 beneficiaries from the Alzheimer's Disease Association (ADA), a charity under the President's Challenge, who visited the Istana gardens on Wednesday (Feb 28) on the invitation from Madam Halimah. The beneficiaries, aged 70 to 87 years, toured the gardens as part of The Garden Tours@Istana series.
Speaking to The Straits Times, the ADA spokesman Jeremy Khoo noted the alarming increase in the dementia incidence rate, with numbers projected to rise to more than 100,000 by 2030 because of the ageing population. Currently, of the elderly aged 60 and older, more than 40,000 are estimated to have dementia.
The Volunteer Gardeners@Istana scheme started in December last year. It is part of a collaboration between the National Parks Board and the President's Office that seeks to make the Istana more accessible to Singaporeans.
As the volunteers explained the significance of the various plant species in the ginger garden, the beneficiaries took photographs as mementos.
After touring the gardens, they met Madam Halimah for photographs before going to The Villa to chat with the President over laksa.
She wished them a happy new year in Mandarin and presented each of them with a pair of Mandarin oranges.
One of them, Mr Wellington Lee, 71, said it would be good to have more of such events.
"The Istana has very nice gardens and is such a beautiful place. And Madam Halimah was friendly and very awesome."