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Dementia: What it is, What Treatment’s Available and How You Can Get Insured

With one in 10 Singaporeans above the age of 60 having dementia, knowing more about this disease is of great importance given  Singapore’s rapidly ageing population and its increased prevalence in the future. Dementia doesn’t refer to a single disease but’s rather an overall term that encompasses medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease which’re characterized by a decline in memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking skills that affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Dementia is often caused by abnormal brain changes which trigger a decline in thinking skills ever enough to impair daily life and independent function. This can affect behaviour, feelings and relationships. Other examples of dementia include Frontotemporal disorder, Lewy body dementia , Huntington’s disease etc.  In this article, we’ll help you understand what dementia is , how to prevent it and how can you get covered by insurance.

Symptoms of Dementia and What to look out for

The common symptoms of early stage dementia include memory loss, difficulty in concentrating , being constantly confused about the time and place, mood changes etc. These symptoms could later develop into increased agitation , depression, anxiety, bladder incontinence and communication problems.  To be on the safer side, there are a couple of things you should look out for in your behaviour. Firstly, look out if you’ve been constantly misplacing things for a prolonged period of time at a level which’s way higher than usual. Additionally, while everyone does become sad and moody from time to time because of the constant struggles in life, if you’ve been experiencing rapid mood swings for no apparent reason consistently you should be more careful. Moreover, if you’re experiencing difficulty doing familiar, routine tasks and have become more forgetful than usual about basic information, it might be a good idea to consult your doctor.  A person suffering from dementia may feel insecure and lose confidence in themselves because of a general loss of control in their abilities.  In Singapore, 3 out of 4 people who suffer from this disease feel ashamed and alienated because of it given the social stigma it carries.

How to Prevent Dementia?

It’s not known precisely what causes dementia which makes it hard to prevent. Despite this, there are a couple of steps we can take. Firstly, don’t smoke. Apart from the numerous lung diseases smoking causes, it’s also responsible for increasing risk of vascular problems which increases the likelihood of a person getting dementia. Secondly, stay at a healthy weight. Research indicates that being obese increases your risk of getting dementia. Obesity leads to health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure which independently increases your likelihood of getting dementia. Hitting the gym once in a while or doing regular physical activities might help you stay at a healthy weight and increase your immunity system which reduces your dementia risk. Thirdly, eat healthy food. Evidence suggests that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, cereal and low in red meat and sugar could help reduce dementia risk. Such diet helps you maintain healthy weight and the high level of anti-oxidants present in such meals increases the level of protein in the brain that protects brain cell from dementia. Lastly, staying mentally alert by constantly challenging yourself to learn new hobbies, read and solve crossword puzzles might help you reduce dementia risk.

Availability and Cost of Treatment

If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, here’s what you could do. While there’s no definitive cure for dementia, certain therapies and medications could minimize its symptoms. To get an idea about the costs, remember the annual cost of dementia for the patient is $10,245 . Care for dementia can be provided in Memory Clinic in the Institute of Mental Health, Psychogeriatric Clinics and a Dementia Friendly Ward which have each been in operation since 2013. Moreover, Changi General Hospital is now equipped with specialized facilities that can assist dementia patients, including their Geriatric Medical Centre and Memory Clinics. There are also day care services available by the agency of integrated care Singapore. Its Dementia Day Care service provides full day custodial care in a centre-based setting for seniors with dementia. It also engages in meaningful recreational activities (e.g. therapeutic, social and recreational) to engage seniors with dementia. This option , however, is more costly than the previous ones. The General Dementia Day care facility costs between $900 and $1700 per month before subsidy and requires a referral by a hospital, polyclinic or family service centres. Research indicates that a person diagnosed with dementia can survive for about 4 and a half years on average.

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How health insurance plan comes in to covers dementia?

While currently there are no insurance plans that specifically cover this disease in Singapore, there are a couple of things you can do to stay protected. Firstly, it’s important to note that you’ll be allowed to withdraw upto $500 from your MediSave account per year for treatments of chronic diseases such as dementia. Moreover, your MediShield life plan can cover 50-80% of your bill for B2/C type wards (i.e. wards with 6-10 beds , self-ventilated, no TV) In addition, for those who purchase integrated shield plan from private insurers will get to enjoy up to 100% coverage even at private hospitals.

If you’re above 40, you can use your ElderShield plan which gives you a monthly cash payout of $400 a month  for up to six years for cases like Dementia that come under the ambit of ‘severe disability’. Upgrading your ElderShield with respective Aviva, NTUC and Great Eastern’s supplementary plan offers you a higher payout package in exchange for a higher premium and gives you the option to pay premiums using your MediSave accounts. You may also consider disability income plans like Aviva Idealincome and AIA Premier Disability to cover expenses during your working years in the event that you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease for an annual premium ranging from $500 to $5,000 (depending on your sum assured). Do note that these benefits ends after age 65 at the most vulnerable period.

Critical Illnesses payout for dementia diagnosis

Luckily for you, dementia is one of the 37 common critical illnesses recognized by the Life Insurance Association of Singapore. What distinguishes the critical illness plans from other health plans is the lump sum payout received by the insured.  Most Critical Illness Plans in Singapore provides coverage for Alzheimer’s or severe dementia.  For insurance purposes, definition of early stage dementia is when the person scores 24 or less out of 30 in a Mini mental state exam or assessed so by 2 neuropsychometric tests conducted 6 months apart. Intermediate stage is when a person scores below the score of 20 out of 30 in a mini mental state exam and displays permanent loss of ability to reason, remember and perceive. Advanced stage dementia is when the clinic and appointed doctors confirms that there’s significant reduction in mental and social functioning requiring continuous supervision of the patient.

However, with the definition of critical illness changing from August 26 of this year , there could be changes here. Given the prevalence of dementia among older people, it is best to examine available medical resources and plans available to you to see which one gives the best bang for the buck.

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