What Is It Like To Have Dementia?

A concert called Remember Me seeks to answer just that question.

What Is It Like To Have Dementia?

The facts are in; Singapore’s population is ageing—quite rapidly, in fact. According to some statistics, the elderly aged 65 and above will account for a quarter of the country’s population by 2030, up from 15 percent in 2015. This revelation brought into focus the real need to tackle the challenges faced by an ageing population — so much so that some have even proposed creating a Ministry of Ageing.

Given the impending demographic change, it has become all the more important for younger Singaporeans to be able to understand and empathise with the elderly, who may face challenges that they find unfathomable — dementia, for instance.

Dementia is a general term that covers a wide range of specific medical conditions caused by abnormal brain changes, including Alzheimer’s disease. These changes trigger a decline in thinking skills that may be severe enough to impair daily life and independent function. These cognitive changes can also affect an individual’s behaviour, feelings and interpersonal relationships. Dementia can technically occur in adults of any age, but are most common among adults above 60.

The onset of dementia can be distressing for both the individual experiencing it, as well as the loved ones around them. A concert, named Remember Me, seeks to illuminate those experiences and raise awareness for the disease and the community programmes available, as well as reduce the stigma associated with it. The concert is proudly supported by the Mind Science Centre, an academic research centre in the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, and a Centre of Excellence under the National University Health System.

Catherine Sng
(Image: Fly Entertainment)

Remember Me stars actress Catherine Sng as Amah Lucy, a character who struggles with the onset of dementia. The concert depicts her emotional journey — and, indeed, that of her loved ones — through a theatrical performance, comprising musical vignettes, dramatic monologues, and educational dialogue.

For Sng, an acting veteran who has played memorable characters in the likes of Growing Up and Chicken Rice War, the topic of dementia is one that is close to her heart. She wishes for this concert to bring a deeper understanding to patients with dementia and their caregivers.

Here, we also speak to Mary Anne Tan, the producer of Remember Me, to find out more about the performance.

What spurred the creation of the Remember Me concert? 

It began when I met Dr Collin Ang from the Mind Science Centre, who told me about the MSC and its invaluable work in mental health research and community programmes like AWE (Age Well Everyday). I realised that dementia is indeed a serious issue and that I, like many other people, had been quite ignorant about dementia and assumed that forgetfulness is part of the natural process of ageing, rather than a medical disease that does not only happen to the aged.

I felt that it was important that more people understand the symptoms of dementia and the importance of mental health. I also hope to draw attention to the contributions and needs of care-givers and call for more support and encouragement for them. I believe that education and awareness is key towards encouraging and enabling everyone to practise ownership and responsibility over their own health, as well as that of their loved ones. 

Can you give us more detail of what the concert will consist of?

The concert portrays and shows the emotional journey of Amah Lucy and her family’s struggle in coming to terms with her condition. Within this framework, we created scenes and vignettes to dramatize the symptoms of the persons with dementia and the kinds of conflicts and misunderstandings that can occur and rise.

Because we also want to acknowledge the role and contributions of caregivers, we also created more presence and space for the caregiver character. We had the fortune of hearing some caregiver accounts and incorporated some of these very real voices into the script.

We also want the concert to be entertaining, hence the concert will consist of many classic songs that will definitely be familiar and nostalgic for our audience. 

What are the challenges associated with producing this concert?

The primary challenge is presenting an accurate picture of dementia and or persons with dementia for the awareness and education of our audience. In this, we are fortunate in acquiring the support of Professor Kua Ee Heok of the Mind Science Centre, who is the subject-matter expert on mental health, dementia, and cognitive diseases. We have even written Prof Kua into the script so that he can provide information “live” to the audience.

Why do you think that telling such a story about Dementia is so important?

It is important for as many people as possible to understand dementia and empathise with the behaviour and struggles of persons with the disease. This will help us take care of and treat persons with dementia with a little more kindness, instead of misunderstanding their behaviour. It is also important for us to understand what the family members and caregivers of persons with dementia are going through so that we can be supportive of them.

What would you wish for audiences to take away from the concert?

That even though persons with dementia may forget us, and may forget themselves, they can still walk and jump and live, they can still dream and hope and love. It is important that we remember them and take care of them more than ever before as they struggle with the loss of the cognitive functions and abilities we take for granted.   

Remember me will be played on the 28th of October 2019. For more information about the concert, or the work that MSC does, please visit its official website.

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