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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Drawing caregivers and those with dementia closer

A programme started last year at the Alzheimer's Disease Association (ADA) is helping those suffering with dementia, and their caregivers.
The Straits Times - September 23, 2014
By: Kash Cheong
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Drawing caregivers and those with dementia closer Ms Janice Nua with her mother Hong Chin Lien and the paintings the latter has done after the Family Of Wisdom programme brought out her artistic talent. -- ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

WHEN Ms Janice Nua took her mother to Britain last year, the 79-year-old kept asking her why Singapore looked so different. Ms Nua told her repeatedly that they were not in Singapore, but this did not seem to register.

A few months later, her mother Hong Chin Lien was diagnosed with early dementia, an illness that causes one to lose the ability to think and reason clearly. Ms Nua, 52, a customer service liaison, was told there was no cure.

"So I wanted help to maintain my mother's mental cognition for as long as possible and spend quality time with her," she said.

A programme started last year at the Alzheimer's Disease Association (ADA) is helping her and about 50 caregivers do just that.

Called the Family Of Wisdom, it is believed to be the first early dementia programme here to fully integrate caregivers in its activities, to improve the bond between caregivers and those with dementia. Groups have been started for those with moderate dementia, too.

As dementia progresses, a person might wander out and get lost, or even turn violent. "The illness can test a caregiver's patience. So a strong bond between caregivers and their loved one is essential to last the journey," said ADA chief executive Jason Foo.

At a typical session on ADA's Tiong Bahru or Bendemeer premises, up to 12 people gather to do physical exercises, play memory games and practise fine motor skills in craft and cookery lessons.

Throughout the three-hour session, caregivers help their loved ones and others in activities such as playing bingo.

"At the end of each session, you feel like you have achieved something together. It strengthens the bond," said Ms Li Khai Ee, 47, a project consultant.

She and other caregivers said the sessions have helped to slow down the cognitive decline of their loved ones.

While some hospitals have conducted similar programmes, caregivers may be less hands-on as staff like occupational therapists do the activities with the elderly.

With limited resources at ADA, caregivers - family members or the domestic help - play a crucial role. The sessions have also improved relationships between the helpers and the elderly.

"At these sessions, my mother sees other elderly folk showing love towards their helpers, and she learns to be kinder," said housewife Lee Pheck Hwa, 57. "My helper also starts to understand that my mother's behaviour is caused by an illness."

As for Ms Nua, the sessions have drawn out her mother's artistic talent. She now buys "paint-by-numbers" sets for her, and Madam Hong fills in the colours of pictures according to a guideline, but adding much of her own creativity.

"My mother used to be frustrated with her illness. But these sessions are filled with fun and laughter. I see the mother I used to know," Ms Nua added.

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