“We want to support you. We will make a gift towards your programme,” an invited guest announced simply to the key speakers during the Q&A session of the National University of Singapore (NUS) Greater Good Series on the topic ‘Age Well Every Day: A Community Healthcare Programme for the Elderly’.
The generous and impromptu gesture was a testament to the crucial role played by private philanthropy in funding NUS’ development of community healthcare programmes for the elderly. This importance was highlighted by Associate Professor John Wong, Director, Mind Science Centre, NUS, in the event’s opening speech.
Prof Wong also shared the Mind Science Centre’s non-drug, evidence-based approach towards research on improving the mental health of patients across all ages; community programmes that deliver direct impact; training of healthcare professionals and volunteers; and influencing national policies on mental health. In particular, the Centre was interested in finding upstream preventive measures to mitigate long-term healthcare costs and reduce societal burden; creating a collaborative faculty-volunteer partnership model focused on the delivery of community-based intervention through evidence-based research; and adopting a non-drug approach to improve sustainability and productivity.
Evidence of some of the notable work done at the Centre was then presented in the sharing by Professor Kua Ee Heok, Tan Geok Ying Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at NUS.
He began, “We often hear the bad news of aging… What then is the good news of aging in Singapore? First, the life expectancy in Singapore is 80 years for men and 83 for women, so our public policy is doing well. The second piece of good news is that it is possible to add years of healthy life to the people of Singapore.”
Prof Kua then delivered the punch in the stomach as he spoke on the rising tide of dementia cases in Singapore. The silver lining was the exciting findings of the Jurong Ageing Study he started in 2012 which showed that mental health could be improved.
At the start of his sharing, Prof Kua laid out why the study of mental wealth was critical. He said emphatically, “The mental wealth of the country depends on the mental health of all its people. If fewer people have dementia, it bodes well for all of us. Every year, if we have 2,500 new cases. Even if 10 percent is impacted, it is 250 families helped.”
Prof Kua’s work has attracted international attention from the World Health Organisation and eminent institutions such as Cambridge University and King’s College. Explaining why the work at the Mind Science Centre stands out, Prof Kua said, “We want to do something better than what (other researchers) are doing. We will do it before people get dementia. Why does dementia prevention start at 65? It should start at 40.” He added, “Usually, there is no evaluation of the outcome on the money spent. But here, there is evaluation.”
A group he studied was divided into four groups where they were exposed to taichi practice, mindfulness practice, music therapy and art therapy. By the end of six months, all the groups improved. More importantly, their memory also improved and brain scans showed the growth of brain cells.
Prof Kua provided glimpses into various aspects of his studies and how philanthropy and collaboration with the wider community had helped. For instance, on how art could improve the minds of old people, he pointed to a study which was prompted by Professor Tommy Koh, former Chairman of the National Art Museum. Instead of a short-term study, Prof Kua convinced the museum to offer free visits to his research subjects on a longer-term basis.
Prof Kua’s programme on dementia prevention has grown from one centre in 2012 to the current eight. However, he reveals that the downside of expansion is that resources are stretched. Hence, there is an urgent need to raise funds for more to benefit from the programme.
In particular, an area in need of funding is the training of trainers and volunteers for the dementia-prevention programmes. Mrs Teo Poh Yim, Founder and Chairperson, Stroke Support Station, shared about how the current programme was exhausting. The commitment of personal time from each expert trainer like Prof Kua was six weekends, with each session reaching only 10 to 20 people.
The solution was to have an online training portal with a programme that train the trainers with the right content which is accessible and yet not too difficult. The trainers would also be equipped with the appropriate audio visual aids and trained to teach at the community centres. When the capacities of the individuals are built, the programme could be sustained in the long run.
Mrs Teo concluded, “Anyone could take the course but we do need funding for the e-portal, so that the community can help the community.”
The NUS Greater Good Series features talks by leading minds on topics related to philanthropy. These include generosity, giving and service to the community, as well as leadership, personal well-being and mental resilience. The Series aims to raise awareness of philanthropy and its impact on society. The Series was made possible thanks to a generous gift from Newsman Realty Pte Ltd.
For further information on the NUS Greater Good Series, contact the Events team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on making a gift to NUS, contact us at 1800-DEVELOP (1800-338-3567) or email email@example.com.