Speech by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health, at the Launch of Dementia Friendly Singapore, 19 March

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Residents of Hong Kah North 

            Good morning. I am very happy to be here this morning, to join the SGfuture discussion on how we can build senior-friendly communities around Singapore, as well as launch the Dementia-Friendly Singapore initiative.  Today our focus is on how to rally the community to build a dementia friendly community. 

Impact of Dementia

2.         Singapore’s population is rapidly ageing. In 2015, one in eight Singaporeans was aged 65 and above; by 2030, this proportion will become one in four. With a growing number of seniors, we are expecting to see an increasing number of seniors with dementia. Thus, it is important for us to prepare our society now to better support a growing number of seniors who may experience the onset of dementia in the coming years. This includes raising awareness of dementia so that as individuals we are better able to help these elderly  and as a society we are more understanding toward persons with dementia and be able to provide care and support to them. 

3.         There is currently no cure for dementia.  A person with dementia will progressively experience memory loss and difficulties in performing familiar daily tasks like getting dressed. Such symptoms can be physically and emotionally stressful to caregivers, especially if caregivers do not understand dementia and do not know where and how to seek help or cope with the caregiver stress. 

4.         At the national level, we are increasing the capacity of our long-term care services to cater for a growing number of seniors with dementia. Between end 2015 and 2020, we will increase the number of dementia day care places from 1,000 to 3,000. We will also increase the number of eldersitters from 100 to 160 by 2017.  We expect needs to grow and we need to increase capacity further. Since 2012, the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) started working with community-based organisations to set up Community Resource, Engagement and Support Teams (CREST) to reach out to seniors who may be at risk of dementia or depression. The 10 CREST teams have reached out to more than 32,000 seniors island-wide. Collectively, these will help support family caregivers in caring for their loved ones with dementia. Between end 2015 and 2020, we will also grow the number of dementia nursing home beds from 680 to 1,970 to cater to seniors whose family members are unable to care for them at home. However, 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.   

 Towards a Dementia-Friendly Singapore

5.         To make Singapore a dementia-friendly nation, we need everyone to lend a hand.  Our wish is to reach out and encourage more citizens and more communities to join our effort to build a dementia-friendly community. 

6.         The inspiration came from Yishun where Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) collaborated with Lien Foundation. With the support by AIC, they launched the Forget Us Not campaign. As part of this campaign, KTPH provided educational talks and training on dementia to various partners such as organisations, businesses and schools to build a dementia-friendly community to help seniors with dementia to continue living at home. The video shown at the opening just now is one of the publicity collaterals developed by Lien Foundation to increase public awareness of dementia. 

7.         Learning from the Yishun project, we hope to develop more communities that are dementia-friendly across the nation. We want to make this a ground-up effort. It is a whole of community effort to build a dementia friendly community. 

8.         So what should a dementia-friendly community encompass? We envision a dementia-friendly community as a neighbourhood where residents, businesses and services, and the community at large are aware of dementia and understand how to better support and care for 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.   

9.         A key component of a dementia-friendly community is to build a network of Dementia Friends. These are basically members of public and businesses who have been trained on a basic level of dementia awareness, so that they know how to identify someone who may have dementia, and also how to interact with them and provide assistance where necessary. So far, AIC has trained some 7000 people in various communities. I am happy to announce at HKN, 139 has been trained. 

10.       AIC has also developed a suite of resources which can be used to raise dementia awareness amongst different stakeholders. Today I am privileged to launch two resource kits. The first is a ‘Knowing Dementia’ toolkit for service providers, community partners, and seniors and their caregivers. The toolkit includes a resource booklet for eldercare providers, an educational video, and an informational toolkit for seniors and their caregivers. The second is a ‘Mental Health Resource Kit’ which will comprise a resource directory and magnet with useful information on mental health and where to seek help. This resource directory will also be made available online via the Singapore Silver Pages portal. We have included the resources in your information pack and I encourage you to share this information with your family, friends, schoolmates, and neighbours in your local community. 

11.       Another key component of a dementia-friendly community is the setup of Go-To Points. We hope to have community partners such as eldercare centres and Community Centres form a network of “Go-To Points” which serve as safe return points for “lost and found” seniors, and where arrangements will be made to reunite the seniors with their family and caregivers. These are places in the community where members of the public can bring persons who look lost and are unable to find their way home. We hope that by having more dementia-friendly communities, we will encourage seniors with dementia to continue to live in their own homes, and to go about their usual routines in the community, because its community members – neighbours, shopkeepers, or even  students can now understand and help them. During this morning’s focus group discussion, there was also a suggestion that we could set-up a photo database for persons with dementia, where family members can voluntarily upload a picture of their loved one with dementia, so that should their loved one be “lost and found”, the community partners would be able to tap on this database to identify them and locate their next-of-kin. This is a good idea that is worth exploring further. 

Building a Dementia-Friendly Hong Kah North

12.       At Hong Kah North, I am heartened that the grassroots and community have rallied together in support of this initiative.  With the support of community partners like REACH Community Services, SASCO, Perdaus and PPIS, we now have a network of five ‘Go-to-Points’ at Hong Kah North, including Hong Kah North Community Centre.  This has been very much a ground-up effort where the members of the community have come together to help make Hong Kah North a more dementia-friendly community. 

Conclusion

13.       We hope that for every one person trained, they will then inspire two or more, so that this ground-up initiative will grow exponentially as part of a community-wide effort. Various communities such as MacPherson, Queenstown and Bedok have also embarked on efforts to become dementia-friendly communities 

14.       I am happy to launch this national initiative and commission our first batch of Dementia-Friendly friends and partners.  I hope that will be the start of a strong and sustained movement to build a dementia-friendly nation. 

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