What will you do if you can’t remember?

(Yishun set to be first ‘dementia-friendly’ town (Photo Straits Times)


Some of the first warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease is that one starts to forget directions. Then there will be difficulty concentrating, decreased memory of recent events and difficulties will arise when travelling alone to new places.

As it progresses, cognition, skills and knowledge will disappear. People that you know very well, friends and family – will be forgotten. The effects on the family is painful.

According to the report of a study commissioned by the 15 Asia Pacific organization members of Alzheimer’s disease International, the number of people with dementia in Singapore is estimated to be 22,000 and is projected to increase 8.5 times to 187,000 by 2050. Alzheimer’s is but one disease – there are many other ailments associated with age.

Singapore is getting old. Based on current trends, by the year 2030 those aged above 65 would form 29% of the country while only 10.3% will form the younger ones.

We all know about the consequences to the economic health of a country but I think we’re not paying enough attention to the “people” element.

We’re a country that is too used to paying our way out of problems – we have armies of maids to look after our children and elderly. We have homes for the aged. Some of us even move our elderly to homes in Johore for care.

This model of subcontracting is “cheap” and efficient, but we continue this act in the danger of eroding values.

“We are building an inclusive and caring society – one where Singaporeans of all backgrounds can improve their lives, where the vulnerable are uplifted, and where people of all ages can look to the future with optimism”, said Heng Swee Keat at the announcement of Budget 2017.

The first thing we must remember is that “care” does not equal “expenses”. More often than not, the older you get, the more you crave…and need… the presence of your children and the people you have built bonds with for decades.

In short, they need you.

What we need is for the Government to continue to support families, help the needy and catalyse community efforts. We need the human connection – neighbours and volunteers to step in and show their support, to kaypoh on the welfare of each other.

Unenlightened neighbours and family would say that it is far more “convenient” for a victim to be outsourced to a eldercare center…but sometimes these may be even worse places to be.

Last year, MOH launched a Dementia Friendly Communities in Hong Kah North, MacPherson and Yishun. These communities are networks of residents, businesses and services trained to look out for and help those with symptoms of dementia.

Happening right now in Parliament are debates on getting VWOs to set up more community-based teams to support those in need, as well as educate the public on mental health issues. The Ministry of Health is also set to provide mental health care services in polyclinics, as part of its broader effort to improve the delivery of care within the community.

There will be a need to involve the wider community, and expand the number of Dementia Friendly Communities. Heng Swee Keat made a note at the opening of the Budget that the government will spend an additional $160 million over the next five years on this.

“We must strengthen the gotong-royong spirit where each one of us does our part to help one another”, said Heng Swee Keat.

I would be most keen to see where this will lead.

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