Organisations like DBS, SMRT, McDonald's, and Sheng Siong Supermarket are training frontline staff to resolve situations arising from persons with dementia.
SINGAPORE: More businesses - from banks to fast food restaurants and public transport providers - are training frontline staff to deal with customers with dementia.
According to Forget Us Not (FUN), a joint initiative by the Lien Foundation and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital which provides dementia-awareness training, close to 10,000 individuals across 32 organisations have been trained so far.
“We are very encouraged by the response,” said Ivan Loh, FUN’s campaign administrator, adding that the programme was only launched this January.
FUN says this training is important in a rapidly ageing society like Singapore. According to a recent study by the Institute of Mental Health, one in every 10 persons above 60 has dementia. The study also found that there are 45,000 persons with dementia in Singapore, and this is expected to go up to 103,000 by 2030.
COPING WITH ELDERLY CUSTOMERS
Organisations like DBS count many elderly people among its customers, the majority of whom prefer performing to carry out banking transactions in person, at the bank branches. This is why 110 of the bank’s branch managers have undergone training by FUN, and have in turn, trained more than 1,000 of their frontline staff.
“The training equips our branch staff with the knowledge to engage properly with customers who display signs of dementia. They are trained to take extra care and patience with customers who may have dementia, and to always show respect and provide reassurance if the customer is struggling,” said Ms Susan Cheong, Head of POSB.
Besides spotting and assisting elderly customers with dementia, DBS also has staff stationed at bank branches to help walk-in customers with banking transactions. If needed, they also show the customers how they can carry out some transactions from home - using mobile and internet banking.
Kina Neo, a branch manager with POSB, said she has so far not encountered difficult situations involving customers with dementia. But she was has been trained to look out for tell-tale signs in people, some of which include repetitive actions that appear purposeless and speaking incoherently.
“As long as we see this kind of behaviour, we'll bring them to a quiet place. Then we'll talk to them in a more friendly and caring tone," said Ms Neo.
"Most of it - it's obviously memory issues, going into a shop and forgetting things, or for example, going into a shop, taking out something, and forgetting to pay. Some other tell-tale signs would be for example, looking confused in an environment which is unfamiliar," added Mr Loh.
While there are other organisations in Singapore with dementia-related outreach efforts, FUN says it is probably the only one involved in training businesses to resolve situations arising from persons with dementia. Apart from DBS, organisations like SMRT, McDonald's, Sheng Siong Supermarket, and Yishun North Neighbourhood Police Centre have also joined the training initiative.
FUN told Channel NewsAsia that its goal is to help foster a supportive dementia-friendly community, so that a significant number of persons with dementia will be able to avoid institutionalisation and live in their own homes. Such communities have been successfully piloted in the UK, Taiwan, Japan, and Australia.
“DEMENTIA IS NOT PART OF NORMAL AGEING”
Besides being friendly and sensitive towards people with dementia, geriatricians like Dr Carol Tan say it is equally, if not more important to investigate and treat symptoms of dementia, like forgetfulness and confusion.
Treatment, or attempts to reverse the onset of dementia, may be neglected because there is a widespread misconception that dementia is a normal part of ageing, she said.
“Dementia is not part of the normal ageing process – we need to get this straight. In my practice, out of a hundred people who come to see me for confusion, perhaps only less than 5 per cent are the true Alzheimer's type, with no cure. The reality is 90 out of the 100 - there is a lot that we can do, to improve their memory. The sad part about it is 30 out of that 100 - nobody ever looked and asked,” said Dr Tan, who is the executive chairman and founder of The Good Life Co-operative.
According to Dr Tan, dementia-like symptoms can set in due to medication many seniors take for chronic diseases like diabetes. Many of these dementia cases are reversible and can be prevented with a change in medication or dosage.
“Once you make a diagnosis of dementia, you are literally condemning someone for the rest of their lives. Nobody wants to go into a nursing home, nobody wants to forget things. It is our duty and responsibility to raise awareness, to give them hope that it doesn't mean there's nothing we can do, and that first we must search for all the reversible causes."