Living with dementia

In spite of a fading memory, people with dementia can still live with hope and dignity. On the occasion of World Alzheimer's Day on Sept 21, The Straits Times finds out how St Andrew's Community Hospital helps its dementia patients.

At the 22-bed dementia care ward in St Andrew's Community Hospital located in Simei, Madam Wong Soo Han, 87, and Madam Goh Chor Keng, 88, hardly spoke to each other until they saw the dolls in each other's arms.

In that instant, maternal instincts connected as they smiled. Their wrinkled eyes lit up as they gestured to each other to acknowledge the life-like models they cradled.

Diagnosed with dementia, both struggle to retain their identities as mothers and grandmothers. Doll therapy can sometimes help to comfort those who have dementia - though Madam Wong could not take to it in the end as her fractured right arm prevented her from holding her doll comfortably.

She has been at St Andrew's Community Hospital for six weeks while Madam Goh was discharged last Tuesday.

In 2013, the hospital set up a dementia care ward to provide rehabilitative care for persons with dementia, a condition characterised by progressive deterioration in memory and other cognitive domains.

About one in 10 seniors aged 60 and above has dementia, a figure that is expected to rise as the population continues to age.

On top of physical rehabilitative programmes, such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy exercises, the hospital also provides a person-centred model of care in the dementia care ward that aims to improve patients' functional outcome, decrease behavioural issues and improve quality of life.


We see persons with dementia as individuals, rather than focusing on their illness. Efforts are made to discover... each person's unique abilities, preferences and needs.


"We see persons with dementia as individuals, rather than focus on their illness," says senior nurse manager Lee Soh Luan, 59, who leads a team of 26 nursing staff.

"Efforts are made to discover and understand the whole person before us, taking into account each person's unique abilities, preferences and needs, as well as his family's background and values, while according (patients) the dignity and respect they deserve."

Tasked with spearheading the dementia care ward in 2013, Ms Lee initiated programmes like doll therapy, grooming sessions, and the display of items from the past around the ward to spark conversations.

Mrs Gloria Amy Locke, 79, a former model and athlete, enjoys the grooming and music sessions. She was referred to music therapy for anxiety. By tracking her responses in individual and group sessions, it was found that music therapy could stimulate and help maintain her cognitive skills and mood, said principal music therapist Ng Wang Feng, 40.

Through therapy and group activities, such as cooking and art and craft sessions, staff at the dementia care ward hope to show how persons with dementia can still live with hope, dignity and meaning.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2017, with the headline 'Living with dementia'. Subscribe