Most people in Singapore are familiar with dementia as a condition that affects the older population, but not many know that it can also happen to those who are younger than 65 years old. This condition is known as Young Onset Dementia (YOD).
In Singapore, the total number of people with YOD has increased in recent years. In 2019, the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) diagnosed 245 people with YOD — a seven per cent increase from 2018. The condition has multiple implications. Because their cognitive domains are affected, their daily lives and by extension, their work, are also affected. As a result, some of them may even be terminated from employment.
Apex Harmony Lodge (AHL) understands this and initiated the Therapy Through Work for Young Onset and Early Stage Dementia (TTW YES) programme in 2018, in response to the growing number of people affected and a lack of specialised services. The programme is currently supported by the Tote Board Community Health Fund (TBCHF) from 2018 to June 2022.
How the Programme Works
The purpose of the programme is to provide Persons with Young Onset and Early Stage dementia (PYES) a sense of identity. Most adult Singaporeans spend most of their lives working, which is why a large part of their identity is tied to their jobs. AHL acknowledges this and aims to give PYES the opportunity to remain in the workforce, hence re-establishing their identity and empowering them to live a normalised life.
AHL also identified these objectives:
- Work can be used as a form of naturalised therapy
- Empower PYES to fulfil their occupational needs and improve their quality of life
- Provide respite and coping strategies to caregivers of the PYES
AHL works with partner companies to provide PYES with job opportunities such as towel folding, food preparation, packing and sticker labelling, and seeding and plant propagation.
Orchid Laundry is one of the organisations that has an ongoing partnership with AHL. Harry Toh, Director of Orchid Laundry, says, “At first, I wasn’t sure whether the PYES could complete the work at a high standard. But they’re actually very capable, and you can tell they’re very motivated to work. It has been a very positive experience overall.”
Ng Wei Xuan, Assistant Manager for Community Care at AHL, who oversees the TTW YES, says, “We aim to establish long-term partnerships with our partner companies through the alignment of needs, ongoing training, and future collaborations beyond work.”
Challenges of the Programme
Like most projects, the TTW YES is not without its challenges. For one, AHL faced a problem of providing a job fit for the PYES given their varied backgrounds. To solve this, the AHL team reached out to different organisations to provide a diverse range of opportunities for the PYES.
“PYES who were open to the new experiences found that they could settle down well with the tasks. The collective social interactions they had with their new colleagues also played a part to improve their performance and made them look forward to the therapeutic engagement.”
Benefits for PYES
Apart from social interactions, the programme offers multiple benefits, including:
- Restore working identity
- Strengthen their sense of self
- Build relationships
- Normalise lives
“We have cases where the PYES really demonstrate ownership of their tasks, staying beyond their stipulated work hours to finish any outstanding thing to be accomplished.”
The caregivers of PYES also attested to the positive outcomes of the programme. One caregiver noted, “He has more initiative. He will help out in the kitchen… He is very proud of his food hygiene certificates.”
AHL will continue to analyse and improve the effectiveness of the programme to provide more dementia-friendly job opportunities to PYES, and make it more accessible and sustainable. Companies who are interested to provide more diverse work opportunities for PYES can contact AHL at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
About Apex Harmony Lodge
AHL was established in 1999 to provide a home away from home for persons with dementia (PWD). The Community Care organisation is committed to empower PWD and strives to re-able them. AHL also works with their caregivers to help them better understand and care for their loved ones. As part of their mission to reframe dementia as a “unique phase of life worth celebrating”, they also put forth the value of dementia-inclusive workplace practices in Singapore.
TBCHF is designed as a seed fund for social service agencies or non-profit organisations to pilot innovative Programmes for the Community Care sector. It supports projects that aim to provide better care and support for seniors and caregivers, those that seek to build capabilities within and among Community Care providers, and projects that address emerging areas and new priorities within the sector. For more information about TBCHF, click here or email email@example.com.
All photos are taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.