Saturday, 12 January 2013

Helping kids relate to family members who have dementia

By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 11 Jan 2013

WHILE other dementia patients at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital were busy painting artworks for their loved ones, one elderly man stared stonily into the distance.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic student Yeo Mei Xian, 19, who was helping to run the art class, urged him to create an artwork for his grandchildren.

He refused to budge and replied: "I can't remember, they find me useless."

The lack of interaction between dementia patients and their children or grandchildren here is not uncommon, says Dr Philip Yap, a senior consultant in geriatric medicine.

He has worked with Ms Yeo and her classmate, Ms Almanda Teo, 19, to produce an illustrated book for children to help them better relate to family members with the condition.

It is seen mostly in the elderly and affects their memory, judgment and other mental abilities.

"There is a tendency to protect children of those with dementia due to social stigma or fear," said Dr Yap, 43.

But he added that studies have shown that the well-being of older persons with dementia is enhanced when they interact with children.

The book, Forget Not The-Forgetful-Him, is the first here on dementia that targets young children.

It will be published by the hospital by June and sold in-house. A price has not been decided yet.

Book readings targeted at children with family members with dementia in the hospital, and the public at Jurong Regional Library, will be done by Ms Yeo and Ms Teo this month.

The book explains the symptoms of dementia in a child-friendly manner, with the use of rhyme and colourful illustrations, and it includes a series of activities that children can engage in with older people with the condition.

It tells the story of a young girl who becomes disillusioned and runs away from home when she feels that her grandfather is drifting away from her.

It is only when he tries to search for her in the rain at her old school that she realises that though his memory may be slipping away, his love for her remains.

The theme of how one's intrinsic motivations do prevail over the ravages of the disease was distilled from Ms Teo and Ms Yeo's interaction with dementia patients in the hospital.

As part of their final-year project, they spent two months last year chatting with patients in the wards and helping to run therapy initiatives.

"I found out that, though they may forget my name each time I come, they remember who I am and the connection we have," said Ms Teo.

"By bringing the children back to their grandparents, hopefully joy and laughter will follow."

About 28,000 people aged 60 and older have dementia today.

By 2030, the figure could hit 80,000.

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