By 2030, there will be 103,000 Singaporeans living with dementia, according to an Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) Report 2015. While we can’t help treat or retard the disease’s progression, we can address an issue that’s common among those living with dementia: they tend to wander or become lost or confused about their location, and it can happen at any stage of the disease. Six in 10 people living with dementia will wander at least once; many do so repeatedly, according to Alzheimer’s Association.
In Singapore, persons with dementia often find it difficult to navigate even their own neighbourhood, and mature residential environments are especially confusing because the high-rise buildings are almost identical. So the Alzheimer’s Disease Association (ADA) did something to address this issue: murals.
Murals depicting snacks of yesteryear
Head to Kebun Baru, and you’ll see that several HDB blocks along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4 have been embellished with old school murals depicting snacks of Singapore’s yesteryear. While the project was done last year, it went viral recently thanks to a post by local hiker Joyce Sim, who shared photos of the nostalgic murals in the Singapore Hikers’ Facebook group after she spotted them on a morning walk around her neighbourhood.
The murals featured familiar, retro food and drinks so that they resonate with those living with early onset dementia (who tend to be the elderly). The items include the iconic sweets like White Rabbit candy, kueh lapis, tang yuan, ang ku kueh, as well as a cup of kopi, a tingkat, and sticks of satay. These colourful drawings do more than decorate an otherwise dull residential block – the size of the murals are large enough and so residents can spot them from afar, and may help them find their way back to their respective blocks.
This dementia wayfinding project was done in consultation with caregivers of patients living with early onset dementia. The murals – which span 11 walls over three blocks – were painted by students from NUS’s Tembusu College over a span of two weeks, translating their creativity into something meaningful for the community.
Since those with dementia may be more familiar with items of their daily life, it may help them recognise and remember their surroundings better. For instance, some may remember tang yuan as a festive treat, or drinking their morning kopi with friends at the kopitiam.
These colourful murals aren’t just about helping dementia patients – they also add colour to the neighbourhood, and no doubt make for great ‘gram shots.
Murals aren’t the only visual aid that can help those with dementia get around – some neighbourhoods use bright blocks of colour.
In an effort to make some neighbourhoods more dementia-friendly, some have turned to colour. The most recent initiative was seen around HDB blocks in high-traffic areas in Chong Pang and Khatib, identified as residential estates with ageing populations.
Similar to colour-blocking zones of a carpark, these HDB blocks were painted with striking colours (red, green, and blue) and symbols – like pineapples, fish, and rubber trees which have historical relevance to the township – not just on pillars, but also on the entire block’s facade. In addition, signages to high-traffic areas like coffee shops, supermarkets, train stations, and block numbers are in large fonts.
By utilising colours and symbols that are easy to remember, it may help people with dementia to navigate better.
As seniors tend to spend more time within their neighbourhoods, it’s crucial to have them well-designed with clear signages. Since older estates tend to be monotonous, these projects not only help with wayfinding – for both elderly residents and new visitors alike – they also brighten up a neighbourhood.