Building an inclusive dementia-friendly community in Kebun Baru

Residents painted murals at void decks to help persons with dementia find their way around

A series of community initiatives has recently been implemented to make the Kebun Baru neighbourhood in North Singapore more dementia-friendly – and the hard work of a group of students from the NUS Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Centre (CTPCLC) cannot be ignored.  

The students had collaborated with the Alzheimer’s Disease Association (ADA) on a year-long research effort, including surveys to determine residents’ knowledge of and attitudes toward dementia, focus group discussions with caregivers of persons with dementia to identify the challenges they face, and walking interviews with persons with dementia and their caregivers to understand their lived experiences within the community.

In their community survey of 133 Kebun Baru residents, it was observed that almost 25 per cent of respondents held stereotypes of persons with dementia and nearly 50 per cent of the respondents neither agreed nor disagreed with these stereotypes, suggesting only a moderate level of knowledge and understanding of dementia. The team thus concluded that community members need to have a greater awareness of dementia and understand and cater for differences in individual experiences of dementia.

The CTPCLC students and ADA published their results in a short research report titled “Building an inclusive Dementia Friendly Community (iDFC) in Kebun Baru”.  

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Dementia awareness posters at Kebun Baru Community Centre

Based on the findings from the study, ADA and the Kebun Baru grassroots embarked on a series of initiatives between November 2018 and April 2020 to build a dementia-friendly community in Kebun Baru. The initiatives included activities to raise dementia awareness and enable the community through informal programmes. The team also aimed to improve wayfinding, by implementing changes to better help persons with dementia find their way around the neighbourhood.

“Many community interventions are put in place without a good understanding of the needs, assets and aspirations of the community members. In supporting ADA in building an inclusive dementia-friendly Kebun Baru, the students used a community-based participatory action research approach to conduct a ground-sensing study that provided ADA with insights that enabled the development of appropriate interventions,” explained CTPCLC lecturer Dr Angeline Lim, who led the student fellows in conducting the study.

In a separate closed-door dialogue between persons with dementia, their caregivers and Mr Henry Kwek, MP for Kebun Baru Constituency, persons with dementia shared how they envision the building of a dementia-friendly community in Kebun Baru. Participation in the dialogue led to their involvement in the wayfinding project – a void deck mural project to assist persons with dementia in finding their way around the estate. The endeavour saw close cooperation with persons with dementia, who chose the images to be painted and provided advice on the locations in which to place the paintings.

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Persons with dementia chose the images for the void deck mural project, and provided advice on the locations in which to place the paintings

Year 4 NUS Engineering student Jazreel Low, one of the four student fellows who worked on the study, shared her experience. “I learnt what residents on the ground understand of dementia, [about] their assets, what they hope to see in their dementia-friendly community and what they think can be improved,” she said.

“This project helped me to understand the importance of eliciting key insights from stakeholders (caregivers) in understanding what a dementia friendly neighbourhood meant,” NUS Arts and Social Sciences graduate Jocelyn Gwee commented in the report.

“Throughout the process, I personally felt the significance of a ground up approach which my team adopted,” reflected NUS Arts and Social Sciences graduate Lau Wan Ling in the report. “I saw how it truly encouraged the sharing of honest and heartfelt experiences and ideas.”

It was an enriching and fruitful experience for Year 4 NUS Arts and Social Sciences student Tan Jia Yi. The student fellow said, “We managed to apply the Community Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR) model and really engaged residents, persons with dementia and their caregivers on the ground, to be inclusive in the research process and capture their voices such that any interventions made are relevant and based on their lived experiences.”

The process of involving the residents and businesses to share their thoughts serves as a reminder that the project should not exist in silos, said ADA consultant Mary-Ann Khoo. “It is personally very inspiring and motivating to encounter students and lecturers so invested and committed to [making] meaningful contributions to our community,” she added.  

See research report.


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