Straits Times uses novel visual tools to change narratives about dementia

By Rebecca Pazos

The Straits Times, SPH Media Trust



While dementia is often associated with feelings of sadness and loneliness, the reality is that it doesn’t have to be that way. In a two-part series, The Straits Times, the most-read newspaper in Singapore, investigated what it is really like living with dementia in the city-state. 

The team used novel visual storytelling techniques such as 3D mapping and photogrammetry to show readers that even though dementia is a challenging condition, persons with dementia can still lead meaningful lives with the right support and care.

Singapore’s ageing issue 

As of 2020, Singapore has nearly 900,000 citizens (or about 22.2% of the population) aged 60 and older — and about 1 in 10 suffers from dementia. But it is not just the people diagnosed who are impacted, said Jason Foo, CEO of Dementia Singapore.

For every person with dementia, one or two family caregivers must change their entire lifestyle or give up work to care for the person with dementia. So the impact is much greater than the projected number of people living with the condition. 

The Straits Times used two personal stories to explain the problem to its audience. 

Living inside with dementia

Institutions like nursing homes are “not always the best place for a person with dementia,” Foo said. The key is to keep them at home and in the community for as long as possible.

This can only be done with the love and support of their caregivers, and The Straits Times team told the story of Daniel Lim, who gave up his job to become a full-time caretaker and dementia care advocate to support both his parents. He made several changes to his home to support his father, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2009. 

 The family dining table in Daniel Lim’s home, built using photogrammetry. His dad’s plate, utensils, and spreads are laid out by his dad in the same order each morning.
The family dining table in Daniel Lim’s home, built using photogrammetry. His dad’s plate, utensils, and spreads are laid out by his dad in the same order each morning.

Through the use of photogrammetry — a technique used to obtain 3D digital models by taking overlapping photographs of an object or area — readers were brought into Daniel’s home. They could see the changes Daniel had made to accommodate his dad’s daily routine, and how these changes were carefully planned out to encourage his dad to maintain independence and build essential strength. 

The Straits Times has been experimenting with 3D storytelling techniques for a while now, but this was the first time the team used photogrammetry for a large space. Beyond using text and videos, this visual format allowed the team to communicate a more immersive and intimate experience to the readers. 

Living outside with dementia

People are also banding together to build dementia-friendly facilities and support systems in Singapore, and The Straits Times wanted to tell readers that story. To do that, it recreated Nee Soon Central — the nation’s first dementia-friendly neighbourhood — in 3D.

Through the eyes of Emily, who was diagnosed with young onset dementia, readers went on a journey highlighting the dementia-friendly features that have been set in place. The story explained how these dementia-friendly neighbourhoods are built and what areas of improvement they provide. 

Nee Soon Central is a street that is typically bustling with activity. As there is no existing 3D view of it on google maps, it was meaningful to build the 3D models from scratch because the team was creating something that was not already available online. 

Changing narratives about dementia

The series was launched on World Alzheimer’s Day, September 21, 2022. The two stories were well-viewed and were among the top eight most-viewed interactives in the newsroom for the year. It was widely shared among the dementia-friendly community.

The stories received many positive comments on social media, including one from the Asian Development Bank’s Social Development Thematic Group, which conducts extensive research and provides financial support for ageing and age-related policies in Asia.

It has also helped further the dialogue about how dementia is not all doom and gloom but can also be filled with positive experiences if communities are set up to help people understand the illness. LinkedIn picked it as one of the top stories for the week of Sept 27, 2022.

As a result of the dementia package, the contributions of the two dementia advocates the team interviewed for the project —  Alison Lim and Anjang Rosli — were made known to the public, and they were nominated for the ST Singaporean of the Year 2022 Award.

This story was written with help from Charlene Chua, digital graphics journalist for The Straits Times.

About Rebecca Pazos

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