Readers learn about dementia at health talk

Dementia can be prevented, its progress can be slowed down, and there are many things we can all do to help. Such hopeful nuggets and tips on how to make them happen were covered in a one-hour panel discussion on dementia yesterday.

Hosted by Straits Times senior health correspondent Salma Khalik, the panel was fronted by Professor Kua Ee Heok of the National University of Singapore, Dr Marcus Tan, a geriatric psychiatrist at the Institute of Mental Health, and Ms Anna Lee, principal occupational therapist at St Andrew's Community Hospital.

The panel explained that the roots of dementia may be planted decades before the symptoms appear and that there are many causes to the disease.

Dr Tan said this is why it is important that the fight to stave off dementia starts now.

Prof Kua, a specialist in psychiatry and neuroscience, said the ways to help prevent dementia's onset include watching one's diet, exercising and stimulating the brain with games such as mahjong and chess.

He added, though, that one does not need to "eat porridge every day" and can still enjoy the occasional plate of char kway teow. He also said eating curry dishes helps because they contain turmeric, which helps to reduce the production of dementia-causing protein fragments in the body.

Occupational therapist Anna Lee said that though expressing emotions through touch is not common in Asian societies, it is "very, very important" for those with dementia. "It makes the patients reassured that they're being cared for."

The panel, which took place as part of the Health & You exhibition held at the Suntec Convention Halls 401 to 403, drew a crowd that exceeded the 112-seating capacity of the area.

A key point of the discussion was on dealing with loved ones who already have dementia.

Ms Lee said even though dementia patients may not understand what we say to them, they will understand other cues, such as our facial expressions, our tone and - most important of all - touch.

She said that though expressing emotions through touch is not common in Asian societies, it is "very, very important" for those with dementia. "It makes the patients reassured that they're being cared for."

The experts answered a wide range of questions from the audience, such as one from part-time administrative worker Shirley Tan, 58. She asked if she could trust advertisements which claimed to test if one would get dementia in the future, which Dr Tan said was not true, except for genetic testing.

Dr Tan and Ms Lee emphasised the need to show care for those with dementia through emotions, because they will understand how we make them feel, even though they may not understand our words.

Several participants said they found the talk to be informative.

Private tutor Catherine Yap, 61, who attended with her cousin, retiree June Goh, 63, said she attended because she wanted to know what she could do to prevent the onset of dementia.

She found the tips to be useful, and said she was going to try to improve her health through more exercise and sleep.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 30, 2017, with the headline 'Readers learn about dementia at health talk'. Print Edition | Subscribe