A new avenue has opened for elderly people with early signs of dementia to keep their minds active, a move that appears to help slow their memory loss.
Called MindVital, the programme, provided by Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), helps elderly folk learn activities that they can continue at home.
Once a week, for three hours, they take part in physical exercises and do activities such as puzzles and quizzes aimed at boosting their memory.
The MindVital sessions run for eight weeks and were spurred by feedback from families about how elderly patients are inactive at home.
Carers told The Straits Times they had struggled to find a programme to plug this gap as current day-care programmes for dementia patients are better suited for those whose condition is at a more advanced stage.
TTSH handles about 400 new dementia patients a year. About 30 per cent are considered mild cases.
TTSH senior consultant in geriatric medicine Chong Mei Sian said carers tend to have trouble persuading patients to take part in activities that could help delay the decline of their condition. "In most cases, patients and their caregivers will consider medication," she said.
The programme aims to show families the potential of methods that do not rely on medication, said MindVital's nurse coordinator Fong Yoke Leng. "It empowers caregivers to see the benefits of getting their loved ones to continue these activities at home."
The programme is not a long-term solution. Each patient can sign up for only three rounds at most, at $320 per round.
Its regular offerings follow a pilot run in April last year. So far, about 50 patients who tried it have achieved 50 per cent to 100 per cent of their personal goals. These include improvements in memory, behaviour, sleep and even socialisation.
Nine in 10 of their carers also reported feeling less stressed looking after them.
Each session begins with a physical activity, such as balancing exercises. This is followed by "cognitive stimulation", which involves group activities such as calculation games and quizzes.
The final part comprises activities tailored according to each person's needs, and ranges from calligraphy to baking and playing iPad games.
For some, the sessions have helped to serve as a "bridge" to dementia day-care programmes elsewhere, said Ms Fong. One example is Madam Choo, who has enrolled in a programme at a community organisation after attending MindVital.
The sprightly 84-year-old housewife, who declined to give her full name, was found to have mild Alzheimer's disease in 2011. Now, she can recall things better, said her daughter, who wanted to be known only as Esther.
Her family has applied some of the knowledge learnt at the hospital sessions, said Esther, 56, a retiree. For instance, they assign Madam Choo simple tasks such as keeping track of the cost of grocery items at the supermarket. Said Madam Choo in Mandarin: "I can remember most things that happened two to three days ago. If the events are too far back, I will write them down in my notebook."