So what can our kampung spirit and technology do to help people aged in place in the community? A report last year by the ABC pointed out that there were 5 million people with dementia in Japan and thousands are going missing every day. In another report, it was cited that 10,783 people with dementia have gone missing in Japan in 2014 alone. Even in Singapore, there are more frequent reports about older adults who have gone missing. Some people have turned to social media for help, posting images on facebook and requesting friends to spread the word and be on the lookout. According to Alzheimer’s Association in America, approximately 60 percent of older adults with dementia wander. It is no surprise when you google the words “dementia” and “news” to find at least one report of a person diagnosed with dementia who has been missing and more has to be done about the issue.
Revealed: Sad plight of the thousands of elderly left alone in homes ‘without letters, visits or calls’ in their final years Read more: Click here to read article by the daily mail
We all want to age in place in the community, with our loved ones around us. We want to remain in the home where we have cultivated our memories, where our stories are embedded in the walls and every little item and furniture has a story that speaks to our soul. Unfortunately, when we have dementia, we may wander out of our homes and have difficulties finding our way back.
This brings me to point out the ‘Safe Wander‘ device designed by Kenneth Shinozuka. He invented a sensor that can be attached to the base of a sock which can send alerts to the smartphone. For Kenneth, the push to design such a device was the result of his grandfather who has dementia. For all caregivers out there, this will possibly make you skip a beat, but his grandfather wandering alone at night and had walked onto the highway. Thankfully, he was found by the kind boys in blue and the police officers brought his grandfather home safe and sound. Stories like these are not new and many caregivers would have experienced this at one time or another. For 16-year-old Kenneth, he decided that he had to do something about it.
With growing success in technology support from neighbours and the police force, pockets of residential estates with a high density of older adults may benefit from an age or dementia friendly community programme. With the community attaining awareness or dementia, everyone will be able to work together to not only enable more people to age in place in the community but it allows community ties to be strengthened and friendships to form. This builds community spirit, and with that a sense of pride and care for the people around them and the community. Or as some Asians may know, the “kampung spirit”.
Let’s be honest, I’m not the only one here that feels that the kampung spirit is dwindling in our communities. Gone were the days that I would know everyone that lived on the right and left of my home. Us kids knew what dialect and language everyone spoke and we even knew the routine of the lady we affectionately call 婆婆 (grandma in mandarin). We knew all the shopkeepers in the market and would holler “大老板早”。Whenever, we pass the herbal smelling Chinese medicine shop, the owners were an older couple from China in their 60s, possibly 80s now. We don’t know our neighbours anymore, we are busy all the time and with millions of people around us but we are truly alone. A volunteer with a senior group once mentioned that he lived in an apartment block for thirty years and a neighbour he had never known had passed away downstairs, all alone. He wished he could have done something about it. At a staff session, a colleague pointed out that a lot of older adults in residential aged care, despite having all the care staff and nurses around them, they felt isolated. Such is the irony of our lives.
Before the intellectual debate, to which many have fallen prey to what D.T Suzuki describes as the force of intellect without moral construction. The need for intellectuals to hastily call attention to, deconstruct, criticise and tear down concepts and ideas like a negative force of deconstruction without the provision of positive contributions.
We should reflect on what we can do for the community to allow people to age in place in the community.
To not feel ashamed of growing old or having dementia, to not feel like everyone have been let down. To not feel like living in an isolated institutionalised facility, thinking that living away from family is the only option, as a punishment for not being “normal”. To think that it is alright to be restrained, bed bound and living to 103 as a result of nasal gastric feeds. To not feel like a burden on society, the community, our friends and the people we hold close to our hearts. We need to look deep within ourselves and work on reducing our need for deconstruction, to stop critiquing ideas, people and ultimately ourselves when we observe the cracks on the wall. Let’s work together as a community to fix this crack of stigmatism against the elderly and dementia and be builders as our forefathers had been before us. Let’s do something about the stigmatism behind dementia before the wall that is our society crumbles before us.