New drive to beat dementia

PHOTO: New drive to beat dementia

SINGAPORE - Freelance hypnotherapist Linda Chua did not realise anything was amiss when her mother started forgetting ingredients for dishes 10 years ago.

But Ms Chua, 54, realised a few months later that her mother was showing early signs of dementia.

Her mother had dialled 15 times to Afghanistan instead of calling Bangkok, where Ms Chua worked.

Ms Chua's mother, who died in 2007 at the age of 83 from liver cancer, could recite phone numbers of family members before that.

The hypnotherapist said that it was initially difficult to help her mother because she did not wish to share her problems.

"(She) still had a sense of pride and dignity... The signs were already there, (but) we just didn't really think about it then," said Ms Chua.

A new programme called the Mental First Aid Kit, launched by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) yesterday, might be just the thing to help caregivers like Ms Chua and people with dementia.

Dementia is a loss of brain function, and a patient with it might often misplace items or have difficulty doing tasks that used to come easily to them.

Currently, 20,000 Singapore residents aged 60 and above have dementia, and the number is projected to more than double to about 53,000 by 2020.

Through the programme, HPB hopes that seniors can be mentally healthy and active, and reduce their risk of getting dementia by carrying out simple activities like games.

The programme can also help caregivers find out if the elderly person they are caring for has the mental condition, so that help can be sought early.

The scheme, open to those aged 50 and above, is free and will be conducted over 10 to 12 weeks.

It comprises an ongoing programme on mental well-being and a new section to train a person's mental functions, such as teaching skills to enhance memory, speed of processing and reasoning ability.

HPB aims to roll out the new programme to all seniors in three years.

For a start, it will be available to residents in the Marine Parade constituency next month, where one in five residents is aged 65 and above. HPB hopes to reach out to 2,500 seniors there.

Yesterday, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman, Mayor of South East District, launched the programme at East Coast Park.

This comes in the wake of recent findings from a Health Ministry survey that 7.8 per cent of residents in the constituency are at risk of dementia, higher than the current national average of 5.2 per cent.

Dr Maliki, who is also Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Defence and National Development, said that people often focus more on helping the elderly with physical support and neglect the issue of mental health.

"We want to encourage old people to age actively, and we want them to be aware of the early signs of mental-health issues," he said.

"So once you know the early signs, you know how to manage (dementia)," he said, adding that there is a need to support caregivers too.

On first session of Parliament today

In times of economic uncertainty, it is important for all Members of Parliament (MPs) to look forward and debate on issues important to Singaporeans, said Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Defence and National Development.

He was referring to the opening of the 12th Parliament which kicks off today.

Speaking on the sidelines of the launch of the Mental First Aid Kit yesterday, he said: "I think everyone is all ready to look at how the new dynamics in Parliament is going to take place."

He added that he is looking forward to hearing the views of the new MPs as well as finding out the key concerns of their residents.

"I think (Parliament) is a good opportunity for all the MPs, whether PAP MPs or opposition MPs, to start looking (into) the interest of Singapore, and look at issues we are currently facing and how we can move forward."

He said "there have been some developments" on Wisma Geylang Serai - a new civic centre which will house a community club and Malay heritage gallery - which he would like to share when Parliament opens.

Yesterday, Dr Maliki also said that his Community Development Council is gearing up for a potential economic downturn by creating more skills-training opportunities.

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