Health Ministry continues push to make Singapore dementia-friendly

The Health Ministry adopts a three-pronged approach to make Singapore a dementia-friendly place. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

SINGAPORE - Reducing the risk of dementia through getting more people to adopt a healthy lifestyle and slowing its progress via early detection is one way of tackling the anticipated rise in dementia cases in fast-ageing Singapore, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam in Parliament on Thursday.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) adopts a three-pronged approach to make Singapore a dementia-friendly place. The other two prongs are building capacity for care services and enhancing support for caregivers, she said.

Ms Rahayu cited a 2020 report by the Lancet Commission that estimated 40 per cent of dementia cases can be prevented or delayed by addressing 12 modifiable risk factors including diabetes, obesity and hearing loss.

MOH will be empowering the population to take charge of its health through Healthier SG, the country’s new preventive care strategy.

“In addition, programmes like functional screening also allow us to identify seniors with hearing impairment and fit them with hearing aids,” she said. “This enables seniors to maintain social engagement of others, which helps to lower the risk of dementia.”

Ms Rahayu was responding to Ms Poh Li San (Sembawang GRC), who had urged the Government to expedite the implementation of dementia-focused policies and the building of more dementia-friendly infrastructure and community programmes in an adjournment motion.

One of her suggestions was to make dementia detection an option for seniors undergoing health screening to help with early detection. “It is very important to catch this disease early because there is only a small window to intervene effectively through a beneficial combination of medication, exercise, brain stimulation and socialisation,” she said.

However, Ms Rahayu pointed out that there is no clear evidence internationally to show that general dementia screening in persons without recognised signs or symptoms of cognitive impairment is an effective public health intervention. Hence, Singapore’s current efforts in early detection continue to be targeted at those who are at risk, she said.

As at December 2021, there were 68 community outreach teams – known as community resource, engagement and support teams – that have reached out to more than 510,000 participants and provided help to over 32,000 people, Ms Rahayu said.

Going forward, more polyclinics will be able to offer dementia diagnosis services and the Government will continue to adjust the pipeline of medical specialists to support the ageing population, she said. As at December 2021, there were 152 geriatricians and 277 psychiatrists registered here. There were also 4,200 dementia day care places in 2021.

Ms Rahayu said the median wait time for a nursing home bed is currently one month, though it can be longer for some seniors who have specialised care needs or specific preferences.

The Government will also be beefing up the community support for persons living with dementia and making the physical environment here more conducive for them, she said.

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