SINGAPORE - Young people in Woodlands will have a key role to play as the town becomes a dementia-friendly community.
A new Dementia Friends Mobilisation Team will be formed next month, to engage young people in dementia outreach initiatives, as part of the Woodlands Dementia-Friendly Community (DFC) launched on Sunday (Nov 24).
Woodlands is one of eight DFCs in Singapore, with others in places like Yishun and Bedok, and is the first one to adopt such a proactive approach for young people.
"This team is made up of youth volunteers, and what we hope to do is to involve young people in addressing this problem, because this is not just an old person problem," said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Home Affairs Amrin Amin.
Speaking at the Family Health and Wellness Carnival at Kampung Admiralty to mark Grandparents' Day, Mr Amrin said it is important for young people to develop empathy and understand the challenges that seniors face, and play a part in helping them.
The carnival featured health and wellness programmes, activities and services to help Woodlands residents stay active and healthy.
Mr Amrin, who is MP for Sembawang GRC, said the Dementia Friends Mobilisation Team will educate young people on what to do and how they can help, when they encounter someone with dementia.
"I think it's important, because the seniors like to be in the presence of young people. It reminds them of their childhood, reminds them of their youth, and it gives them energy and gives them life."
The mobilisation team will reach out to residents, merchants, students and hawkers to raise awareness about dementia within the DFC, and also befriend and engage seniors at home through sports and exercise.
If Woodlands residents with dementia are reported missing, the team will also be activated to look out for them.
Mr Nithiaraj Sukumaran, 25, a senior player with the floorball interest group of Woodlands Community Sports Club, said he is keen to join the Dementia Friends Mobilisation Team, as he wants to help spread awareness about dementia.
"It's a good way to promote dementia. Not a lot of people know about it," he said.
He recalled an incident during his national service in the Singapore Police Force two years ago, when he came across an old woman with dementia.
"It was a case at Sembawang. We came across an old lady in her 80s who didn't know her home address, nor any emergency contact number. She had no identification cards or anything on her. We had to dig through her bag to finally find the number of her son."
Mr Lee Jiun Wei, 29, coach of the floorball team, said he intends to get all 80 players, who are mostly between 13 and 20, to join the Dementia Friends Mobilisation Team.
The mobilisation team will be led by social service agency AWWA and Woodlands Grassroots Organisations, and is supported by the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), Republic Polytechnic and Woodlands Community Sports Club.
"By 2030, it is projected that one in 10 of our seniors aged 60 and above in Singapore will show signs of dementia. To better support persons with dementia and their caregivers, a supportive and inclusive community is critical to help them live and age well," said AIC chief executive officer Tan Kwang Cheak.
Besides the mobilisation team, other efforts to make Woodlands more dementia-friendly include the creation of 15 Go-To Points, where lost people with dementia can be taken to.
Staff at these Go-To Points are trained to calm them down and help them identify and contact their next-of-kin.
More than 2,500 grassroots volunteers, students, residents and merchants have also been engaged through talks and workshops, since October last year, to help them better understand ageing and dementia.
AWWA will also be starting a centre in Woodlands to support its community mental health efforts in the first half of next year, along with creating a caregiver support network.
On Sunday, a children's storybook about dementia written by university adjunct lecturer Serena Lim was launched.
Titled Remembering For The Two Of Us, it charts the journey of a young child coming to terms with changes she sees in her grandmother with dementia.
Ms Lim was inspired to write the book based on her own experience, after her 83-year-old mother was diagnosed with dementia five years ago.
"For adults, we are bewildered by the situation and process. Even more so for children, when they see their loved ones changing."
She said that while adults have materials such as pamphlets, there is a lack of resources for children to find out more about their seniors undergoing dementia.
She felt a storybook is a good way to bring awareness of dementia to children, and hopes the book will help lessen the fear for families when a loved one is undergoing dementia.
"We know there's no cure and the progression will be natural, but it's not all doom and gloom," she said of the condition. She explained that her mother is still the same person deep down, retaining her basic traits such as being kind and generous.
The storybook is available in public libraries and will be online at http://dementiafriendly.sg