Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is not a part of normal ageing.

Do you know someone or have come across a person behaving “oddly” at the hawker centre or bus-stop and suspect that he or she may have dementia? How do you react and help him or her?

As Singapore's population ages, the number of people suffering from dementia is expected to rise. In Singapore, about 1 in 10 (amongst the elderly aged 60 years and above) suffers from dementia. This corresponds to approximately 82,000 people with dementia in 2018 and is projected to increase to 152,000 by 2030.

If one of your family members are diagnosed with dementia, wouldn’t you want to live in a dementia-friendly community that accepts and embraces persons with dementia?

How Do We Recognise Dementia?

A traditional nursing home helping people suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia is not a normal part of ageing. Instead, it is an illness that affects the brain, causing the brain cells to die at a faster rate than normal and the mental abilities of the person declines.

Some of the warning signs or symptoms of dementia include failing memory or memory loss, deterioration of intellectual function and personality changes. While it is normal to forget things once in a while, a person may have dementia or a mild cognitive impairment if they forget familiar tasks such as how to use the telephone, find their way home, or get very confused about time, people or places.

The more we know and understand dementia, the more we can help people with dementia stay independent. A dementia-friendly environment allows people with dementia to lead as normal a life as possible within the community they are familiar with, instead of being in a nursing home or daycare facility.

First Dementia-Friendly Town in Singapore

With Yishun being the first dementia-friendly town in Singapore, there are plans to have more such towns where businesses and residents are trained to recognise and help those with the illness.

Meanwhile, Bishan boasts Singapore’s first dementia-friendly coffee shop, where the stallholders are been trained as ‘dementia friends’ to recognise and help possible dementia sufferers, and large decals are displayed on tables that aim to educate the public about the illness.

Related: Recognising Dementia

How to Play Your Part

Be patient and respectful of people with dementia. 

Not staying in Yishun or Bishan? You can still do your part. Here’s what you can do to be helpful to someone with dementia who does the following:

  • Keeps asking the same questions: You can be patient and respectful. Try to listen well to what the senior is asking. Avoid testing their memory in any way. Instead, try to use memory aids like clocks or calendars.
  • Is lost and can’t find his/her way home: Reassure the person if he or she feels lost or disoriented. Speak slowly and calmly, using short and simple words. Ask one question at a time, allowing plenty of time for the person to answer.
  • Becomes agitated or displays a difficult behaviour: Try to find out if he or she is uncomfortable, e.g. too hot or tired, or needs to go to the toilet. Try to remove the trigger for the negative behaviour. Alternatively, try to distract him or her with another activity.
  • Insists on being right. Don’t try to win an argument with a person with dementia. Their view of reality can be different from ours. Focus on keeping a positive tone.
  • Says or does something unexpected or politically incorrect: Try to ensure the senior’s safety and maintain their dignity, while trying to understand their needs. Sometimes, see the funny side of things and laugh along with the senior.
  • Difficulty finding the right words or remembering things accurately: Practise patience and allow the senior to maintain their independence. Resist the urge to correct the person with dementia, unless it affects their health or safety. Instead, offer assurance and praise, which will boost the individual’s self-esteem.

When meeting someone who you know or suspect to have dementia, it’s important to remember that being kind and patient goes a long way. When you try to understand and accept the behaviours of seniors with dementia, it helps to reduce their frustration, and you play a part to create a more dementia-friendly community for them to live in.

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