The fight to stave off dementia starts now, askST panel says

(From left)Panel moderator Salma Khalik, Dr Marcus Tan, Professor Kua Ee Heok and Ms Anna Lee at the AskST talk on  Preventing, Delaying and Coping with Dementia.
(From left)Panel moderator Salma Khalik, Dr Marcus Tan, Professor Kua Ee Heok and Ms Anna Lee at the AskST talk on Preventing, Delaying and Coping with Dementia.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Singapore - 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 the many tips on how to make them happen, were covered in a one-hour panel discussion on dementia, 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, hosted by Straits Times senior health correspondent Salma Khalik, explained that the roots of dementia stretch up to 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 that eating curry dishes helps because they contain turmeric, which helps to reduce the production of dementia-causing protein fragments in the body.

The panel, which took place at the Health & You exhibition at Suntec Convention Halls 401 to 403 on Saturday (July 29), drew a crowd of 100, exceeding the seating capacity.

A key point of the discussion was about dealing with loved ones who already have dementia. Ms Lee said that 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 Ms 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.

Prof Kua encouraged participants to go for Age Well Everyday programmes around the island to understand more about preventing dementia, adding that 10 per cent to 20 per cent of dementia cases can be prevented from developing through good health practices.

Participants 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.

Both she and Ms Goh had paid for five seminars at the Health & You exhibition, including one on how vision changes with age on Sunday.

On the exhibition, executive Georgie Anthony, 57, who was there with his wife Anita Georgie, 53, to buy supplements, said: "There is a lot of information and a lot of stalls to improve awareness about supplements and health."