The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and the Alzheimer's disease Association (ADA) held a closed-door discussion on 1st February 2007 attended by over 40 participants from various organisations. Medical and social work professionals, academics, members of Volunteer Welfare Organisations and civil servants shared their knowledge and views on the challenges that dementia poses to Singapore as a nation. In light of Singapore's rapidly greying population, there is an urgent need for dialogue and discussion to allow for a better understanding of the means through which care and support may be provided to dementia patients and caregivers to ease the disease burden of dementia.
The following is a summary of closed-door discussion.
The Dementia Epidemic
According to the report of a study commissioned by the 15 Asia Pacific organization members of Alzheimer's disease International, the region faces a "dementia epidemic" as its aged population grows. [More information on the study can be found at http://www.alz.co.uk/research/asiapacificreport.html.]
For Singapore, the study estimates that the number of people with dementia is 22,000 today and is projected to increase 8.5 times to 187,000 by 2050. Given Singapore's rapidly ageing population and the current thrust to encourage elderly workers to stay on in the workforce, the social and economic ramifications of dementia cannot be ignored. While the existence of dementia is well-known, Singaporeans generally lack a proper understanding of the symptoms or the burden of formal and informal care for both dementia patients and their caregivers. There is, therefore, a pertinent need to gain deeper insight into dementia as a chronic illness and its disease burden in Singapore through further research.
More importantly, greater effort has to be devoted to raising public awareness of dementia symptoms and its concomitant disease burden shouldered by both the patient and their caregivers. More research into dementia in the local context will not only contribute to the general improvement of the quality of life of people with dementia and their caregivers, but will also enable Singapore to reap the potential long term economic and social benefits born of such an endeavour. It will further contribute to the eradication of misperceptions that have established unnecessary boundaries, preventing dementia patient or caregivers from stepping forward for help or support.
With coordinated efforts and a multi-faceted approach, Singapore can thus begin to take its first steps in meeting the challenges that dementia poses.
The problems of dementia and its challenges for a rapidly ageing Singapore are bound to arise in the near future. But with every tiny step taken and every effort made, we are one step closer to achieving a better quality of life and a more caring society for all.