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Banks lend a hand to customers with dementia

Staff at banks are being trained to spot and talk to seniors with dementia as part of a nationwide move to help those with the disease

Joyce Teo on 06 Jan 2020

The Straits Times


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A customer in his 60s was in the queue at the DBS South Bridge branch, but could not recall why he was there when it was his turn to be served.


Branch service manager Kina Neo said she took him to a private room, where she spent time talking to him. Finally Ms Neo sought his permission to contact a family member, who came to the branch to pick him up.


Like her other colleagues who are frontline staff, Ms Neo has had training in how to spot and communicate with persons with dementia. Dementia is the term for a group of symptoms that occur when the brain is damaged by diseases, the most common of which is Alzheimer's disease.


DBS Bank cited the example to show the importance of such training, which it is now carrying out for all 12,000 staff at DBS and POSB banks through e-learning.


DBS launched the online dementia awareness (foundation) course by the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) last month.


The training is part of the move to make Singapore dementia-friendly, which has become more urgent as the population ages and this disease becomes more prevalent. While the risk of dementia rises with age, it is not a normal ageing of the brain.


One in 10 people aged 60 and above here may have dementia. The total number is estimated to be 82,000 and expected to surge past 100,000 by 2030.


The e-training course focuses on supporting customers with dementia so that they do not make repeat withdrawals, potentially frittering away their life savings due to impaired thinking.


DBS said with the training, branch staff can also notice warning signs of potential issues such as financial neglect and exploitation.


"If an elderly person says, 'I want to close my account and take out all my money', then the teller can ask a few questions to see if something is amiss," said the chief executive of the Alzheimer's Disease Association (ADA), Mr Jason Foo.


"We have heard of cases where patients with dementia withdrew all their money to give it to others. They are not logical anymore due to their disease."


Dr Philip Yap, a senior consultant at the geriatric medicine department at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, said some people who have short-term memory problems may go to the bank to withdraw money three times a day or multiple times in a week and frontline staff can watch out for them.


Sometimes, they may agree to buy investment products that they do not need.


Dr Yap said: "One patient thought that the product would give him certain returns on a regular basis and when he didn't get them, he created a ruckus at the bank."


Luckily, it turned out that he had not actually bought the product.


Dr Yap said in the United Kingdom, the financial services sector worked with the Alzheimer's Society to develop a dementia-friendly financial services charter, as the society found that one of the biggest challenges faced by people living with dementia is dealing with banks, building societies and insurance companies.


The guide highlights dementia-friendly practices, such as offering customers the chance to flag to the bank that they have dementia to enable it to tailor its service, so that those with the condition can continue to independently manage their finances.


Dr Yap said: "They are not afraid to tell the bank that they have a problem."


The bank can then put in measures to support them, including ensuring they do not get products they do not need.


Dr Yap said staff at a few other financial institutions, such as OCBC Bank and Hong Leong Finance, have also been trained to identify and communicate with people with dementia under Forget Us Not, an independent nationwide initiative organised by the Lien Foundation, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and ADA.


Ms Yeo Wenxian, head of DBS and POSB Branch Banking, said customers who are flagged usually permit branch staff to take the recommended recourse, such as contacting their next of kin or accompanying them to the nearest Go-To Point.


These are touch points within the community that serve as resource centres to provide information on dementia and link those who need help with the relevant dementia-related services.


There are now more than 200 designated Go-To points all over Singapore, such as at social service agencies and Guardian Pharmacy outlets.


Ms Yeo said it is also important for branch staff and customers to be aware of legal procedures that can help protect customers' bank accounts in the event that one becomes mentally incapacitated. This includes the Lasting Power of Attorney, which helps one to appoint a trusted person to act on one's behalf if he should lose his mental capacity.


In other sectors, efforts are also being made to enable people with dementia to continue living in the community for as long as possible.


Staff at SMRT Buses and Guardian Pharmacy have also been trained to identify and communicate with those who may have dementia, said the AIC.


According to the AIC, more than 14,000 frontline staff have been trained under the Dementia-Friendly Singapore initiative as of December 2018.


Singapore now has eight dementia-friendly communities - Yishun, MacPherson, Hong Kah North, Bedok, Queenstown, Fengshan, Bukit Batok East and Woodlands.


• To locate Go-To Points, go to dementiafriendly.sg/Home/GoToPoints


This article has been edited for clarity.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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