SINGAPORE – For Mr Wong Loke Kit, 60, and his wife Sim Peck Hoon, 57, a new art program designed for people with dementia and their carers at the National Gallery Singapore (NGS) has offered more opportunities communicate and build relationships.
Mr. Wong, a part-time project manager, is the primary carer for his wife, who was diagnosed with dementia in September 2020. The couple had the chance to experience Art With You, using a caregiver guide provided by NGS, which guides conversations using artwork as a trigger.
Mr. Wong said in an email interview, “The program brings back many fond memories of her youth as she was growing up, especially for the works that featured the old Boat Quay and Chinatown. She started telling me stories of her youth.
Mrs. Sim was a meter before her diagnosis and is now a housewife. She said, “I enjoyed seeing so many beautiful works and felt very happy, because the atmosphere is nice and comfortable.”
The helper’s guide is divided into three sections – people, food and stories – and offers thoughtful questions such as “what fruit do you see in this picture” and “who do you think is in this picture” from more in-depth for people with dementia. As they watch each work with their caregivers, a meaningful discussion blossoms, creating a memorable experience for both.
People with dementia and carers can also participate in free guided group tours. The minimum size of each group is two pairs and the maximum size is four pairs. Group tours are only available to community groups and must be arranged in advance (email [email protected]).
The program also includes an art pack with string, colored paper and modeling clay for people with dementia to create their own works of art in response to what they have seen. These kits can be used at home or at NGS.
Ms Alicia Teng, 39, Deputy Director of Community and Access at NGS, said: “Besides art appreciation and artistic creation, a key part of the program design is to encourage participants to share their experiences through what they created and enjoyed during the session.”
According to NGS, Art With You is the first permanent artistic engagement program created for people with dementia and their caregivers.
In view of Singapore’s aging population and rising dementia cases, NGS launched a study on art engagement therapy two years ago in partnership with Dementia Singapore, a social service agency specializing in the care of people with dementia.
Previous studies with Dementia Singapore show that artistic engagement not only improves the well-being of people with dementia, but also creates a positive attitude towards dementia for those affected. People involved in the program were better informed about dementia, which reduced stigma and raised awareness of the disease.
Dementia Singapore managing director Jason Foo, who declined to give his age, said the main aim was “to build capacity within the gallery to accommodate people with dementia and their care partners”.
In 2019, one in 10 elderly people in Singapore over the age of 60 suffered from dementia. The Health Promotion Board estimates that by 2030, nearly 152,000 people will be diagnosed with dementia. These numbers have prompted more community initiatives to make Singapore more inclusive, with dementia-friendly neighborhoods and other programs.