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‘Not an old-person problem’: Outreach team getting youth to help tackle dementia

SINGAPORE — Whenever she takes her elderly mother out around the neighbourhood, Ms Serena Lim noticed that children would often strike up a conversation with her mother.
There was one problem though: Her mother would ask them the same questions again and again.

Mr Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Health and Home Affairs and Advisor to Woodlands Grassroots Organisations (GROs), playing floorball with some seniors during the launch of Woodlands Dementia-Friendly Community (DFC) at Kampung Admiralty on Sunday (Nov 24). Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

Mr Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Health and Home Affairs and Advisor to Woodlands Grassroots Organisations (GROs), playing floorball with some seniors during the launch of Woodlands Dementia-Friendly Community (DFC) at Kampung Admiralty on Sunday (Nov 24). Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

SINGAPORE — Whenever she takes her elderly mother out around the neighbourhood, Ms Serena Lim noticed that children would often strike up a conversation with her mother.

There was one problem though: Her mother would ask them the same questions again and again.

Unaware that Madam Amy Lee suffers from dementia, the children would give her “funny looks” and not know how to react, her daughter said.

“They would think: ‘Is this person mad? They’re puzzled as to what’s happening and sometimes they just run off,” Ms Lim told reporters on Sunday (Nov 24) at an event held at Kampung Admiralty to launch the latest dementia-friendly community in Woodlands.

To Ms Lim, a university adjunct lecturer, it is important for children to learn more about the condition and involve them in the process, especially given a recent rise in young-onset dementia, which hits people aged 65 and below.

In order to reach out to the younger crowd, Ms Lim released a children’s storybook titled “Remembering for the Two of Us” on Sunday.

Aimed at children aged six to 12, it comprises short stories and activities meant for them to complete with their loved ones who have dementia.

Serena Lim, author of Remembering for the Two of Us, her first children’s book that was inspired by her personal experience as a caregiver for her mother with dementia. The Launch of Woodlands Dementia-Friendly Community (DFC) at Kampung Admiralty took place on Sunday (Nov 24). Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

Dementia is a condition where brain cells die at a faster rate than normal, causing a decline in mental abilities and leading to failing memory, intellectual function and personality changes. 

The condition is increasingly prevalent as Singapore’s population ages. The disease affects one in 10 people aged 60 and above, and the number of dementia patients in Singapore is expected to rise to 80,000 by 2030.

Ms Lim uses her personal experiences in her book, which is about a young girl called Agnes who struggles to understand why her grandmother with dementia acts in certain ways.

Her own mother, now aged 83, is “always very kind and generous” and that part of her personality still remains even as her dementia is progressing into an advanced stage, Ms Lim added. 

“Through Agnes, I want to teach them that it’s also about empowerment, that they don’t have to be so afraid and they can still be close to their grandparents… they’re not doing these things to you personally,” she said.

DEMENTIA-FRIENDLY COMMUNITY

On Sunday, Mr Amrin Amin, Member of Parliament for Sembawang Group Representation Constituency, announced that the community will be recruiting youths starting next month to join a new “dementia friends mobilisation team” in Woodlands.

The team will reach out to residents, merchants, students and hawkers to educate them on dementia. They will also befriend seniors through activities such as sports, games and exercise.

“What we hope to do is to involve young people in addressing this problem, because this is not just an old-person problem,” Mr Amrin said.

“The young can play a very big part, so it’s important that they develop empathy and understand the difficulties and challenges that seniors face. And it’s important that they are part of the solution.”

If someone with dementia is lost within Woodlands, the team will be activated to keep a lookout. 

The team will be led by voluntary welfare group Awwa and Woodlands grassroots organisations, and supported by the Agency for Integrated Care, Republic Polytechnic and Woodlands Community Sports Club.

Besides this, 15 resource centres in the community which provide information on dementia have been set up in Woodlands. 

Members of the public can take those who appear to have dementia or are lost to these centres, where trained staff can provide advice, as well as help to identify and contact their family members.

There are seven other dementia-friendly communities islandwide. Yishun was the first housing estate to come on board since the initiative was rolled out in 2016, followed by Hong Kah North, MacPherson, Bedok, Fengshan, Queenstown and Bukit Batok East.

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dementia children's books Woodlands Dementia-Friendly Community grassroots

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