Elderly mother with her daughter smiling at the camera

“Dementia-Friendly” Towns may Enable People with Symptoms to get Help Sooner

Source: The Straits Times, 1 February 2016 © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

Yishun is set to be Singapore’s first “dementia-friendly” town.

This involves some 2,000 residents – from school students and front-line hospital and business staff to mosque and church members – who have been specially trained to spot people with signs of dementia and assist them or help them get the medical treatment they need.

The town was chosen to test out this town concept because of its high number of elderly residents – about 10 percent or 20,000 residents there are aged 65 and above.

The idea is that with the training, if a person with dementia gets lost, a student or a supermarket cashier can show him the way home.

Or, if the person takes items from a supermarket without paying, its staff will not assume he is shoplifting.

One person for whom training has been helpful was Nanyang Polytechnic student L. Sakthisvaran, 22, who often sees an old woman shouting at the top of her voice in his neighborhood. After learning to spot signs of dementia, he now knows what to do. He took down her children’s contact numbers and lets them know where she is whenever he sees her.

However, Singapore is still far behind developed countries, such as Britain and Japan, which have already trained millions of people in local towns on basic dementia recognition and care.

Related: Can Singapore Become a Dementia-Friendly Community?

The Low-Down

Elderly man in a wheel chair with his daughter walking in the park

This pilot programme is important as a significant number of the elderly here already have dementia or will likely have it in the future.

Research figures show that one in 10 people aged 60 and above here has dementia now, and the condition affects half of those aged 85 and beyond.

One major benefit of such towns is that they will enable people who exhibit symptoms of this illness to get treatment earlier.

Such towns will also help the elderly avoid having to stay in institutions such as hospitals or nursing homes and live at home instead.

Research has proven that having such an environment decreases the need for costly nursing or hospital care.

Beyond this economic benefit, establishing more of such communities will help those with dementia live a more dignified and active life in their own neighborhoods.

“In Yishun, they can get around safely and continue to participate meaningfully in their usual routines because members of their community, be it a favourite neighbour, shopkeeper or local policeman, can understand and assist them.”

Dr Philip Yap
Director of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Geriatric Centre

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