More call Alzheimer's Disease Association for help on dementia

Dr Chen Shi Ling, who works with dementia patients at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, sharing her personal stories working with patients at the launch of the World Alzheimer's Month press conference, on Sept 4, 2018.
Dr Chen Shi Ling, who works with dementia patients at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, sharing her personal stories working with patients at the launch of the World Alzheimer's Month press conference, on Sept 4, 2018.PHOTO: LIEN FOUNDATION

SINGAPORE - More people have called the Alzheimer's Disease Association's (ADA) dementia helpline over the past three years, a stark sign of the nation's greying population.

The number of calls to the association rose from 6,068 in 2015 to 8,411 in 2017, an increase of 40 per cent.

The numbers were disclosed on Tuesday (Sept 4) as the ADA and Lien Foundation kicked off World Alzheimer's Month at the National Museum of Singapore.

ADA chief executive Jason Foo said the rise in the number of calls was in line with Singapore's increasingly ageing population as well as a greater awareness of dementia.

"Even though there is more awareness today, many families still struggle with not knowing where they can get help when their loved ones have dementia," he added.

One in 10 people aged 60 and above suffer from dementia here. By 2030, there could be more than 130,000 people afflicted.

Lien Foundation chief executive Lee Poh Wah said: "Caring for persons with dementia is a physically, emotionally and financially demanding journey fraught with uncertainty."

A 2013 study by St Luke's Hospital showed that over 50 per cent of caregivers suffer mild to severe stress.

Experts say that demand for caregiver support has also risen with the ageing population and rising incidence of dementia.

The numbers attending the ADA's caregiver support groups grew from 713 in 2015 to 841 last year, an increase of 20 per cent. The association holds about five support groups a month.

The ADA and the Lien Foundation released a graphic novel on dementia on Tuesday as well as a series of videos on tips by caregivers.

They contain personal stories from caregivers of diverse backgrounds, including the president of the National Council of Social Service, Ms Anita Fam, and Dr Chen Shi Ling, who works with dementia patients at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

Dr Chen, 37, whose grandmother was diagnosed with dementia 20 years ago, said caregivers often do not know why their loved ones start behaving differently and where they could seek help.

She remembered her grandmother "behaving strangely", telling relatives that she had not eaten for days and that she was being abused. She even threatened suicide.

Dr Chen, just 17 at the time, did not know how to react.

"One of the most challenging things is that dementia impacts and changes relationships that people have developed their whole lives," she said.

As a doctor now, she understands her grandmother's behaviour and credits her passion to eldercare on their relationship: "Dementia make it difficult for you to see your loved ones. All caregivers have to do is reach in to them, peel back all the layers and you will find them."

The graphic novel and videos are available online but 2,000 copies of the novel will also be available in places such as hospitals and libraries.

Lien Foundation's Mr Lee hopes the resources will help caregivers: "We hope they will draw strength and solace in their solidarity as they tackle the burden, loneliness and stigma of dementia."