Proposed national registry will make it easier to track down missing dementia patients

Proposal to log their details so they can be identified more easily when they go missing, for example

In Singapore, dementia affects an estimated one in 10 people aged over 60.
In Singapore, dementia affects an estimated one in 10 people aged over 60. ST FILE PHOTO

Patients with dementia could have their details logged in a national database to help the authorities identify them more easily.

The move would help police to find out if a disoriented person has dementia and, if so, which next-of-kin to contact.

Family members could also rely on the registry if they need cooperation from the private sector, such as getting telcos to track phone signals of missing patients or getting banks to look out for big withdrawals.

Mr Jason Foo, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Disease Association (ADA), has suggested such a registry to the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) after attempts to locate missing dementia patients were hampered by red tape, such as needing to file a missing person report before telcos can track phone signals.

"There were also one or two cases of our elderly clients who went into a shop and took something," he said. "The shopkeeper said they didn't pay, but they thought they did because they could not remember. The police came in, didn't recognise dementia and handcuffed the client."

The Sunday Times understands that discussions are going on between the ADA, AIC and police.

"We started just a few months ago," said Associate Professor Philip Yap, senior consultant at the department of geriatric medicine, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

"If we have a registry, it would be most useful if it has photos that can be searched. What happens now is that the police pick them up, then take them to the hospital. But it is hard to identify them, as their names are unknown."

The AIC could not respond by press time.

Such a registry could also help with planning aged care services in Singapore, according to Dr Ng Wai Chong, chief of clinical affairs at the Tsao Foundation, a non-profit group which specialises in ageing issues.

"We can see where the dementia patients are and if the number of day care centres there are enough. It will help us understand the complete needs of the population."

In Singapore, dementia affects an estimated one in 10 people aged over 60. There were approximately 40,000 dementia patients in the Republic as of last year and that number is projected to reach 92,000 by 2030.

Currently, the Ministry of Health knows who has been diagnosed with dementia and the ADA maintains a database of those who have come to it for help, but there is no national registry. Only Sweden and France currently have one in place.

Experts suggest having government bodies such as the Ministry of Health or the AIC manage the database, letting doctors and the police tap into it and, possibly, voluntary welfare organisations who work with the elderly.

"The database should be held by the Government," said Mr Foo. "Because if ADA were to hold it, it is a huge responsibility for us. If we lose that database, it's a very valuable database. If you know which households have dementia, it's very useful for someone who wants to market their products."

Dr Ng said access to the registry has to be tight to prevent scams and suggested that commercial entities go through the Office of the Public Guardian or the police to check the registry.

A dementia database will require the support of sufferers and their families, who might not want their loved ones to be registered due to the stigma attached.

Dr Yap added: "Having a registry can be very stigmatising, especially for patients with early dementia. If they are still aware, they must agree to this, but they might not consent."

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, who chairs the health Government Parliamentary Committee, said the authorities need to consider when someone should be included in the database.

"What defines a dementia case?" he asked. "There are early-stage dementia patients, where they are still aware, then mild-stage, where they get more agitated, and then the severe cases. So what qualifies you to be included in the database and who decides? Doctors or relatives? Because dementia isn't so clear-cut, there's no special test."

Mr Foo insisted: "The database needs to be there, all the various people need to know that there is this database, then when people find an elderly person they need to know what to do. It's a long process for us but we think we need to get started."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 24, 2016, with the headline Proposed national registry will make it easier to track down missing dementia patients . Subscribe