SINGAPORE - Outside Ang Mo Kio-Thye Hua Kwan Hospital, patients throw balls to dogs, groom and pet them as part of their in-patient occupational therapy sessions.

Dogs Max and Cabi, together with their feline friend Alfie, are among the six animals whose owners have volunteered for the weekly half-hour sessions, which help dementia patients and those with other cognitive problems improve their well-being.

The programme, which is the first of its kind here, is the brainchild of senior occupational therapist Gelena Anandarajah who was inspired by her love for animals growing up and the "emotional support" her pets provided.

"As dementia progresses the patients lose the ability to communicate so they might not be able to tell you how they feel," said Ms Anandarajah, 28, who won the Superstar Award in the intermediate and long-term care allied health category at the Singapore Health Quality Service Awards 2018 on Tuesday (Jan 30).

"But they (the dogs) are quite sensitive (and) I feel that they look more at the person's body language. It doesn't matter what you say, whether you speak or not, but they're able to pick up these cues from the patients."

Since the animal-assisted therapy sessions started in early 2016, patients have been happier and more engaged, she added. They have also improved physically, such as by being able to stand for longer periods and balance better.

Ms Anandarajah was one of more than 3,500 winners who received their awards at the MES Theatre at Mediacorp. They came from 30 public healthcare institutions, community hospitals, intermediate and long-term care sector agencies and private healthcare institutions.

The awards, organised by the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre, have recognised healthcare professionals from the acute and community care sectors since 2011.

Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong, who was guest of honour, said: “People-centred team work is about different healthcare professionals – doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, support staff – coming together with enhanced protocols to diagnose, treat and rehabilitate patients so that we can improve outcomes that truly matter to them. These will include faster recovery and reduced hospital readmissions.”

Another Superstar Award winner was Dr Chan Yew Meng, a senior consultant at Singapore General Hospital's (SGH) Department of Otolaryngology. He took the prize in the clinician category for his pioneering work in the field of tinnitus - a condition causing ringing in the ears - after starting SGH's Tinnitus Clinic.

Superstar Award winner Dr Chan Yew Meng, a senior consultant at Singapore General Hospital's Department of Otolaryngology, who took the prize in the clinician category for his pioneering work in the field of tinnitus. PHOTO: SINGHEALTH

Ren Ci Community Hospital won the best team award in the "service initiative improvement team category" for reducing the number of delayed discharges.

Ren Ci Community Hospital's (front row, from left) manager Ramona Ng, care coordinator Siti Radhiah Binte Gulam Husain, nurse manager Lingaraj Prabha, (back row, from left) pharmacist Koh Chang Chern, medical social worker Phua Vivian and physiotherapist Naveendran Myeluvaganam. PHOTO: SINGHEALTH

By improving communication with caregivers, the hospital managed to reduce the number of discharge delays from 22 to two in 2016.

Nurse manager Lingaraj Prabha, 37, who was part of the project team, said: "I'm happy that my patients are discharged on time... if we didn't do this project, we would not have put ourselves into others' shoes."

Source: The Straits Times (c) Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction