Inspired by her grandfather’s battle with dementia and now looking for ways to engage with her grandmother, Christel Goh, 26, based in Singapore, created a card game to help elderly with their memory and fight dementia in Singapore.
By Christel Goh
Dementia at home
My grandfather had dementia. I can’t remember when it happened.
I wasn’t very close with my grandfather but I saw the pain of dementia through my mother. I knew that it was extremely difficult. When he got aggressive, the maids and old folks’ homes couldn’t handle him.
The doctors we saw administered drugs that made him a different person and didn’t help much with dementia. As my grandfather’s condition worsened, my mother said that he was no longer the same person that he used to be. He forgot who his family members were and sometimes, he forgot who he was. It took a toll on my mother and uncle. A few years ago, my grandfather passed away.
Fighting it Again
That wasn’t the end of it. Today, my family is faced with another challenge – fighting dementia in my grandma. Growing up, my grandma was the one who took care of me. When I was younger, she held me by the hand and brought me to school.
But the hands that used to lift me up have now become the ones that need support. As I grow up, my grandma grows old and our roles have changed. At 80, my grandma needs to be accompanied when she leaves the house. Watching your loved ones age is a painful thing, you see them lose the ability to do the things that they once could do. This heightens when your loved one gets diagnosed with dementia.
The fight got serious in the past year when we witnessed worrying signs. She started to forget things that we just told her and she got suspicious and angry at home. My family resolved to fight dementia before it happens to my grandma.
One day, I brought home a colouring book and she was so thrilled. My grandma hasn’t stopped colouring since. Along with this, my mother constantly searches for exercises and foods to improve the memory. We also ensure that my grandma goes out often for walks and sunlight. Over time, her memory and disposition has improved significantly, and we are always exploring how we can better engage her.
When we went through this experience, I felt that there must be many others in Singapore, just like my family, who are at a loss when faced with dementia at home.
Localised Activities for Elderly
When we were exploring activities for my grandma, I realised that there is hardly any material that is relevant for elderly in Singapore. This led me to create Hua Hee (the hokkien term for happy), a card game of vibrantly-coloured unique to Singapore items that is designed to help fight dementia in Singapore. I wanted to create something that people could easily use to help their elderly loved ones improve their memory. According to the National Institutes of Health in the United States, brain-training exercises slows down dementia between 33 to 48%. I have tested Hua Hee with my grandma and other elderly, and the response has been quite positive.
Happy and healthy towards the end
When I play the Hua Hee card game with my grandma, she would recognise the food and heritage items on the cards. She would start telling me about how my great grandmother made Ang Ku Kueh with Ang Ku Kueh moulds at home when she was growing up. Ang Ku Kueh is a Chinese pastry.
I feel that a game is one of many ways in which we can better engage elderly. But, what I really want to do is to make sure my grandma is happy and healthy in the last years of her life.
I think it’s important to be mindful of how dementia can creep into the home. We’re thankful to God that we’ve seen an improvement in my grandma after a series of activities that we do at home. I don’t know if it’s entirely possible to reverse or slow down the progression of dementia. But, you’d never know until you try.
Hua Hee means happy in Hokkien. Hua Hee is a Singapore heritage card game designed to fight dementia & bring generations together. It is now available on PlayHuaHee.