Published on: June 6, 2012
by Eveline Gan for Today:
She was only 11 and had not heard of dementia when Ms Foong Mei Ching had a nagging suspicion something was wrong with her grandmother 15 years ago.
“Grandma was still out and about with her usual routine, but I felt she was behaving strangely. She would leave the house keys hanging at the door and, sometimes, she forgot how to wear her undergarments,” said Ms Foong, 26, a community relations executive at Yong-en Care Centre.
Worried, she told her parents about her concerns, but they waved it off as normal ageing. “Back then, there was a lack of information on dementia, and the early symptoms are easy to miss. I felt something was amiss only because I had spent so much time with her during my childhood,” said Ms Foong.
Her grandmother was officially diagnosed with dementia – a disease which causes brain cells to die off faster than normal – two years later when her forgetfulness got out of hand.
About 28,000 seniors here suffer from dementia, and the figure is estimated to increase six-fold by 2050. To keep pace with Singapore’s ageing population, the Government had earlier announced plans to boost mental healthcare services, focusing specifically on dementia patients, over the next five years.
To help family members identify signs of early dementia, Professor Kua Ee Heok and researchers from the Department of Psychological Medicine at National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine have developed a simple screening questionnaire. The four questions test a person’s cognitive abilities and can be completed within five minutes.
Prof Kua said the simple screening tool will help families detect potential dementia cases for further medical investigations.
“With early dementia, concentration and short-term memory are the first few things that go off, and these symptoms can seem a lot like the process of normal ageing,” said Prof Kua, who is also a senior consultant psychiatrist at National University Hospital.
Ms Lim Ai May, manager for elder services at Yong-en Care Centre, which offers day activities for dementia patients, feels family input is key to an early diagnosis, which is critical in slowing the disease’s progression.
“Family members spend most of their time with the patients, so they would be the first ones to notice changes in their daily routines and activities,” said Ms Lim.
There is no cure for dementia but, “with early detection, the right medication and mental stimulation, patients can go on for a good 15 years”, said Prof Kua, adding that patients tend to deteriorate very rapidly without treatment.
An early diagnosis also means that families and caregivers can learn to better cope with the stress of caring for their loved ones, added Ms Jocelyn Neo, manager of corporate services and community partnerships at Alzheimer’s Disease Association.
Normal ageing or dementia?
1 Has your loved one been misplacing items/ belongings at home?
2 Has your loved one missed any appointments such as meetings with friends and doctor appointments?
3 Is your loved one having difficulties managing his/her finances (for example, unable to come up with the proper amount of change while making a purchase)?
4 In the past weeks, did your loved one read a magazine, book, newspapers/ watched television for under five minutes?
If you’ve answered “Yes” to three or more of the questions, see a doctor for further assessment.
Although it’s great to celebrate the big achievements, it’s also important to celebrate the small wins.
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