Dementia helpline gets 40% increase in calls

The Alzheimer's Disease Association and Lien Foundation released a graphic novel on dementia on Sept 4, 2018, and a series of videos on tips by caregivers.
The Alzheimer's Disease Association and Lien Foundation released a graphic novel on dementia on Sept 4, 2018, and a series of videos on tips by caregivers.PHOTO: LIEN FOUNDATION AND ALZHERMER'S DIEASE ASSOCIATION

Rise due to ageing population, greater awareness of ailment

More people have called the Alzheimer's Disease Association's (ADA) dementia helpline over the past three years, a stark sign of the nation's greying population.

The number of calls to the association rose from 6,068 in 2015 to 8,411 last year, an increase of 40 per cent. The numbers were disclosed yesterday as the ADA and Lien Foundation kicked off World Alzheimer's Month at the National Museum of Singapore.

ADA chief executive Jason Foo said the rise in the number of calls was in line with Singapore's increasingly ageing population and a greater awareness of dementia.

He added, however, that "even though there is more awareness today, many families still struggle with not knowing where they can get help when their loved ones have dementia".

One in 10 people aged 60 and above suffers from dementia here. Alzheimer's Disease International, a global federation of organisations offering dementia support, estimated that Singapore had 28,000 dementia sufferers in 2010 and 45,000 in 2015. The Lien Foundation and ADA noted that by 2030, there could be more than 130,000 people afflicted.

Lien Foundation chief executive Lee Poh Wah said: "Caring for persons with dementia is a physically, emotionally and financially demanding journey fraught with uncertainty."

A 2013 study by St Luke's Hospital showed that over 50 per cent of caregivers suffer mild to severe stress.

Experts say demand for caregiver support has also risen with the ageing population and rising incidence of dementia. The numbers attending the ADA's caregiver support groups grew from 713 in 2015 to 841 last year. The association hosts about five support groups a month.

The ADA and Lien Foundation released a graphic novel on dementia yesterday and a series of videos on tips by caregivers. They contain personal stories from caregivers of diverse backgrounds, including the president of the National Council of Social Service, Ms Anita Fam, and Dr Chen Shiling, who works with dementia patients at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

Dr Chen, 37, whose grandmother was diagnosed with dementia 20 years ago, said caregivers often do not know why their loved ones start behaving differently and where they could seek help.

She remembers her grandmother "behaving strangely", telling relatives she had not eaten for days and was being abused. She even threatened suicide.

Dr Chen, just 17 at the time, did not know how to react: "One of the most challenging things is that dementia impacts and changes relationships that people have developed their whole lives."

The graphic novel and videos are available online at www.forgetusnot.sg, while 2,000 copies of the novel will also be available at places such as hospitals and libraries.

Lien Foundation's Mr Lee hopes the resources will help caregivers: "We hope they will draw strength and solace in their solidarity as they tackle the burden, loneliness and stigma of dementia."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2018, with the headline 'Dementia helpline gets 40% increase in calls'. Print Edition | Subscribe