Another dementia-friendly community
Hong Kah North has become the second community that is dementia-friendly, and more communities have shown interest.
Following a ground-up movement on dementia called Forget Us Not in Chong Pang, which was launched earlier this year, there is now another dementia-friendly community (DFC) in Hong Kah North, which was launched recently by Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor. The initiative called Dementia-Friendly Singapore is addressing the prevalence of dementia, which is about 10 percent amongst seniors aged 60 and above and with a rapidly ageing population, the number is set to rise.
The initiative is aimed at building a more caring and inclusive society that can support persons with dementia (PWDs) to age-in-place and lead independent lives. This initiative will also support caregivers of PWDs by helping to look out for their loved ones and reduce the stress and fatigue that they may face. So far, other communities such as Bedok, Queenstown and Macpherson have indicated an interested to become a DFC.
Said Dr Amy Khor: “We do not wish for our seniors to be institutionalised just because they have dementia, and we hope to rally everyone to build a more dementia-friendly Singapore so that our seniors and those living with dementia can age-in-place with confidence and support from agencies, community and individuals.”
She explained further about what a DFC encompasses – “We envision a DFC as a neighbourhood where residents, businesses and services, and the community at large are aware of dementia and understand how to better support seniors with dementia and their caregivers. It is a place where the seniors feel respected, valued, and where help is within easy reach so that they can continue to lead independent and meaningful lives. It is also an environment in which seniors with dementia will be able to move around safely and with ease.”
There are a number of components that make up a DFC. One is the support network of dementia-aware volunteers. In each community, citizens-on-patrol, grassroots leaders and volunteers, students and staff of business entities are trained to serve as community lookouts to assist PWDs. They will undergo training on the features of a dementia-friendly community, common signs and symptoms of dementia, and how to reach out to PWDs in the community and how to communicate with them. To date, over 7,000 persons in Singapore (of which 139 have been trained in Hong Kah North) have been trained.
Said Alicia See, 17, a trained volunteer: “Ultimately, we need to be concerned citizens who can contribute back to our community. By being a part of this meaningful cause, we are able to raise awareness about dementia in Hong Kah North and I am now equipped with the knowledge and skills on how to interact with and help PWDs. … The DFC initiative encourages more positive sentiments towards dementia, in that we should help PWDs and provide them with an inclusive and helpful community and culture.”
There are also stakeholders who have come on board including Alzheimer’s Disease Association, Centre For Seniors, Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore, Brahm Centre, schools, grassroots organisations, family service centres, faith-based organisations and community care sector partners such as day care centres.
Also in a DFC, including currently in Hong Kah North, there is a safe return system which will be piloted where community partners will form a network of four to five “Go-To Points” to help seniors who may be lost to return safely to their family and caregivers.
Explained Dr Tan Weng Mooi, chief for Community Mental Health Division at AIC, “The leaders at the Go-To Points have been trained to offer general assistance to PWDs to connect them to their family or caregiver, as well as link them up with appropriate support services such as dementia outreach teams called CREST (Community Resource, Engagement and Support Teams). These teams will help provide dementia-related resources and services to PWDs. Each Go-To Point has been chosen for its easy access.”
The Go-To Points at Hong Kah North are the Hong Kah North CC, Hong Kah North Day Care Centre for the Elderly (SASCO), REACH Youth Powerhouse, PPIS Family Service Centre (West) and Perdaus Centre.
Besides the community outreach, AIC has also developed a suite of resources to equip community partners and volunteers. A ‘Knowing Dementia’ Toolkit serves as a resource for service providers, community partners and seniors or their caregivers to increase public awareness of dementia. This will be made available at all senior care centres and eldercare providers. This toolkit also includes an informational kit for seniors and their caregivers, which will help them better understand the early signs of dementia, how to engage PWDs and tips on keeping the mind active. There is also a sticker where caregivers can indicate the contact details of their next-of-kin and stick the sticker on an EZ-Link Card or other items the seniors are likely to carry.
There is also the ‘Mental Health Resource Kit’, which includes a resource directory that has information on mental health conditions and where people can go to seek help, and a magnet with useful tips on mental wellness and helplines. This kit is available online at the Singapore Silver Pages portal. AIC is planning to work with partners to develop resources customised for different stakeholder groups. For instance, AIC is working with the Centre For Seniors to develop a training curriculum on dementia awareness for frontline retail personnel such as supermarket staff.
Ultimately, a DFC is meant to empower PWDs to lead more independent lives and support their caregivers. Shared Abdul Ghani Bin Hamid, whose mother has dementia and is attending the SASCO Hong Kah North Day Care Centre for the Elderly: “My mother requires more care and attention owning to her condition. Having a DFC is important. I know who to turn to if I need additional help. With the support of a DFC, I am more assured that someone will help watch over my mother and look after her if the need arises.”
Before the launch of the dementia-friendly community, there were nine focus group discussions as part of the Ministry of Health’s SG Future engagement session on “Building Senior-Friendly Communities”. Participants not only shared about how to support PWDs living in the communities but also the use of TimeBanking in the local context (this is a concept in the US that uses time instead of money as the currency of exchange of services) and community mapping so to better meet the needs of seniors.