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Nee Soon South and Chong Pang Housing Board blocks to get dementia-friendly features

To help dementia patients find their way home, Housing Board blocks in Nee Soon South and Chong Pang will be getting fresh coats of paint in red, green and blue from February next year.

Similar to zoned car parks, the blocks will also feature icons - pineapple for red blocks, fish for blue blocks and rubber trees for green blocks. Block numbers will also be painted prominently on the sides of the blocks and on their pillars.

Plans for these features and other infrastructural upgrades such as clearer signage and more resting places were unveiled on Sunday morning (Oct 13).

The suggested features are based on recommendations by experts on dementia like Dr Philip Yap, a senior consultant in the department of geriatric medicine at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH).

The features are intended to compensate for the physical and cognitive deficits that people with dementia may have, Dr Yap said.

"If a person with dementia were to ask for help, or if somebody were to find him looking lost, even if he cannot remember exactly which block he stays in, he might be able to recall the colour or icon. This will help people to lead him back to where he stays."

The project is a collaboration between Nee Soon South Grassroots Organisations, the Agency for Integrated Care, Nee Soon Town Council, KTPH and the GoodLife!@Yishun centre, which is run by social service agency Montfort Care.

The team selected blocks in high-traffic areas near Nee Soon South Community Club and Chong Pang City.

Announcing the plans, Ms Lee Bee Wah, grassroots adviser and an MP for Nee Soon GRC, noted that one in 10 persons aged 60 years and above has dementia.

"Think of it as one person with dementia in every block by 2030," said Ms Lee.

"So we urgently need to make our community dementia-friendly, make it a place where a person with dementia can still go downstairs for coffee, talk with friends, join community activities.

"All this will slow down the progress of their dementia."

She said one problem that people with dementia may face is forgetting how to get home. The new features will make it easier for these residents to find their way around the estate and to remember where they live, she added.

"We are the first community in Singapore to adopt dementia-friendly infrastructure. I hope our pilot will inspire other communities to do the same."

Nee Soon South residents like Madam Yong Fui Yin, 66, and her husband Ho Shien Joo, 70, are looking forward to the upgrades.

Mr Ho was diagnosed with mild dementia in January this year.

Madam Yong, who is Mr Ho's caregiver, said her husband once got lost and had to ask for help from a passer-by.

"He gave the wrong block number because he had forgotten it. That made me worry," she said in Mandarin.

Mr Ho said he does not want to have to stop his usual morning routine, which includes taking a walk and going to the coffee shop on his own.

He added that the new features will let seniors like him go out independently with more peace of mind.

Written by Rei Kurohi for The Straits Times. Photo by Lianhe Wanbao.

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