Help for carers of dementia patients

Seventy-five-year-old Madam Then with Ms Wong, a social worker from the Tsao Foundation's Hua Mei dementia care system, who helped her sort out her 94-year-old husband's health affliction and arranged for daycare services to relieve some of the stres
Seventy-five-year-old Madam Then with Ms Wong, a social worker from the Tsao Foundation's Hua Mei dementia care system, who helped her sort out her 94-year-old husband's health affliction and arranged for daycare services to relieve some of the stress on her.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Caregivers unable to cope can turn to one of four teams under home intervention programme

When Madam Then Mui Thye's husband started throwing tantrums and smearing faeces on their bedroom wall, the 75-year-old was at her wits' end.

Her husband, who has advanced dementia, was unable to communicate and she had no idea how to manage him.

"He was exactly like a child," Madam Then recalled. "Sometimes he wouldn't want to get up in the morning, and when I woke him up he would kick me."

It got so bad that Madam Then, who has poor eyesight and lives alone with the 94-year-old, considered putting him in a nursing home.

That was when social worker Wong Yock Leng, from the Tsao Foundation's Hua Mei dementia care system, stepped in. She helped sort out the man's constipation problem - part of the reason he was acting out - and arranged for daycare services to relieve some of the stress on Madam Then.

The foundation is one of four teams under the Agency for Integrated Care's (AIC'S) dementia home intervention programme.

CHILD-LIKE AND VIOLENT

He was exactly like a child. Sometimes he wouldn't want to get up in the morning, and when I woke him up he would kick me.

MADAM THEN MUI THYE, on her husband, who has advanced dementia.

Team members identify crisis situations in which caregivers are unable to cope, and try to find solutions that do not involve uprooting dementia sufferers from familiar surroundings and placing them in institutions.

Started in 2013, the programme has served around 300 patients in total over the past three years. It has been so successful that the AIC is aiming to help more than 350 people next year.

"From one team in 2013, we have developed a total of four teams to date - two teams run by the Alzheimer's Disease Association, one by Tsao Foundation, and the fourth by St Luke's Hospital," said Dr Tan Weng Mooi, who is chief of the agency's community mental health division.

Dementia affects an estimated one in 10 people aged over 60 in Singapore, where the population of people 65 and over is expected to double to 900,000 by 2030.

While those with moderate dementia - an umbrella term for disorders related to the decline of cognitive abilities - may still be able to care for themselves, those with an advanced form may not understand what is being said to them and have problems dressing themselves or eating.

Ms Wong said most of her referrals come from hospitals, where stressed family members tend to send their relatives when they do not know where else to turn.

Since going to daycare, Madam Then's husband has stopped acting out so much at home. "Sometimes it's because they're very bored at home; at the daycare, there's more engagement," Ms Wong said.

Added Madam Then: "My heart is more at ease. Now I have a bit more time to myself - to exercise, to eat, and to watch television."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2016, with the headline 'Help for carers of dementia patients'. Print Edition | Subscribe