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Two more dementia friendly towns soon

Experts say such zones will allow more people with disease to remain in familiar community

Kok Xing Hui on 23 Feb 2017

The Straits Times


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Retiree Vivienne Lee, 73, is happy that more towns in Singapore will be designated dementia-friendly. Her husband, Mr Philip Lee, 80, was diagnosed in 2012, and she worries when he wanders around.


In dementia-friendly communities, businesses and residents are trained to recognise and help those with the illness.


"He is very active, he is never at home. He will go for walks, watch movies, meet friends. But now, he is not as good with directions and he lost his way once," said Mrs Lee, who lives with her husband and a helper.


She is hoping her Serangoon neighbourhood will join Yishun, Hong Kah North and MacPherson, which were designated dementia-friendly last year.


On Monday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced during the Budget speech that more dementia-friendly towns will be set up. Along with help for people with mental health conditions, such efforts will cost $160 million over five years.


The Straits Times understands that at least two more dementia- friendly communities will be set up this year. Today, one in 10 people aged 60 and above is diagnosed with dementia. It affects about 40,000 people in Singapore, and the number is expected to double by 2030.


Experts said dementia-friendly towns will allow more people with the disease to remain in the community they are familiar with, instead of being in a nursing home or daycare facility.


"It is about helping the elderly with dementia lead as normal a life as possible within the community," said MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling.


Alzheimer's Disease Association (ADA) chief executive Jason Foo said that this, in turn, helps with the cost of dementia as fewer facilities are needed. He said: "No matter how many facilities, how many daycare centres or how many nursing homes you have, you are not going to be able to cope - numbers are just rising too fast."


During a visit to the ADA yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah said: "It is about trying to make sure that you have the things in place, so that the people who need help know where to go and can get access to it."


Yishun - launched in January last year as a dementia-friendly town by the Lien Foundation and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) - now boasts more than 3,800 volunteers, or dementia friends.


Another 61 businesses are also involved, including Hong Leong Finance, which sent 200 branch staff for training. The staff can now recognise signs of dementia. If an elderly person is seen withdrawing money multiple times a day, the bank can step in or contact the next of kin.


Dr Philip Yap, director of KTPH's geriatric centre, said more people are going for evaluation of dementia. Early diagnosis and intervention can delay the deterioration.


He said increased awareness of the disease has also led to greater empathy. "Those who have been trained, they invariably say they can now empathise more with people with dementia and are more willing to lend a helping hand."


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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