Dementia is not natural part of ageing

PHOTO: The New Paper

Dementia stole senior volunteer Cyril Ong's mother from him three years ago.

Mr Ong, 68, and his family were left to mourn her all over again when she died in June this year. She was 92.

Mr Ong said of his mother: "Initially, she became very quiet and spent her days excluding herself from family activities."

The elderly woman then stopped living in the present and started talking only about the past.

"That went on for two months, until we bought games to help stimulate her mind," said Mr Ong.

"And when she deteriorated further, she even forgot all our names."

Singapore has about 660,000 people aged 60 and above, of which one in 10 suffers from dementia. This number will increase with the country's fast-ageing population.

Dementia is not a normal part of ageing, but a disease that affects the brain, causing the cells to die at a faster rate. As a result, the mental abilities of the person with dementia decline, leading to failing memory, deterioration of intellectual function and personality changes.

A three-year study on almost 5,000 patients and their caregivers by Institute of Mental Health experts and other international investigators found the likelihood of dementia for those aged between 75 and 84 to be 4.3 times higher than that of those aged between 60 and 74.

For those 85 years and over, it was 18.4 times.

Knowing the prevalence will help policymakers plan services.

Already, there are community-based programmes in place at hospitals to empower caregivers and eldercare agencies to better manage seniors with mental health disorders.


But psycho-geriatrician Ng Li Ling of Changi General Hospital said a major issue is that many still think that dementia is part of normal ageing.

"As a result, people are brought for a diagnosis late - usually when there are behaviours that may be difficult to manage or when caregivers are burnt out and all they want is to put them in a nursing home," she said.

Dr Ng, who is speaking on transforming dementia care in Singapore at the Singapore Health and Biomedical Congress today, said: "Increasing awareness helps in early diagnosis, which, when paired with appropriate interventions - such as day care, caregiver education and support, medication and ongoing management - can help tremendously."

Local actor and theatre educator Noorlinah Mohamed, 46, cares for her 85-year-old mother, who has been suffering from dementia since 2008. She feels that with most busy caregivers holding jobs, many may not to be able to spend enough time with their elderly parents to spot the issue early.

"Often you can tell when dementia might be setting in through their eyes - there would be blank stares - and their confusion about time and place," she added.

Dr Ng said there is a need to integrate services to create the new concept of Senior Care Centre, where dementia, rehabilitation care and some nursing care procedures can be done.

5 things you need to know

Dementia is not a natural part of ageing

While some of us become more forgetful as we get older or during times of stress or illness, dementia is a different sort of forgetfulness.

It is where memory loss is more noticeable and may be accompanied by mood changes and confusion.

It is important to ask your family physician to check out any unusual symptoms as these can sometimes be treated.

Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain

Dementia is the name for a collection of symptoms that include memory loss, mood changes and problems with communication and reasoning.

These symptoms are brought about by a number of diseases that cause changes in the brain, of which the most common is Alzheimer's. It changes the chemistry and structure of the brain, causing brain cells to die.

It's not just about losing your memory

Dementia starts by affecting short-term memory, but it can also affect the way people think, speak, perceive things, feel and behave. It makes it harder to communicate and do everyday things.

It's possible to live well with dementia

Many people with dementia continue to drive, socialise and hold down satisfying jobs. Even as dementia progresses, many lead active and healthy lives, continue their hobbies and enjoy loving friendships and relationships.

Dementia does not discriminate

Dementia is a condition that can affect anyone regardless of background, education, lifestyle or status.

Source: Singapore Silver Pages by the Agency for Integrated Care and Institute of Mental Health's medical board (research) vice-chairman Chong Siow Ann

This article was first published on October 3, 2015.
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