Singapore’s growing elderly population can take heart from plans to build a dementia care village in Sembawang, the first of its kind in the country, and in the decision by Alexandra Hospital to become the first public hospital here without an Accident and Emergency Department and focus on non-emergency procedures to benefit the elderly. The hospital’s decision is designed to treat non-urgent yet high-demand cases quickly and efficiently, especially for the ageing population. Beneficiaries include those suffering from cataract, a bane of the elderly. But others, too, stand to gain from the reduction in waiting times. Alexandra’s concentration on the special needs of the elderly does not compromise its functions as a hospital because patients who feel unwell can still visit it at any time. This is one way in which medical institutions can focus on ageing without losing sight of their wider social responsibilities.
The idea of a dementia care village also broadens the scope of eldercare beyond the purely medical aspects and, indeed, beyond the institutionalised care provided by nursing homes. In the village, residents will be encouraged to lead their lives as they choose, as far as is possible. Promoting social interaction is also key to their empowerment. Simple activities such as shopping, dining out, and helping to manage the household, which the young take for granted, could contribute greatly to the well-being of dementia patients as it can help reduce dependency on others as well as slow mental decline. The safety of a home-like environment, which assists residents to live independently, is a good way to enable them to make the most of their remaining years. There are questions, however, about the affordability of living in the village, and how to make it relevant to the varying needs of those with mild, moderate or severe dementia. These are issues that will need to be finessed to make the village a feasible option.