Nobel laureate's wife urges more help for dementia patients

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 March, 2010, 12:00am

The wife of Alzheimer's afflicted Nobel physics laureate Charles Kao Kuen has urged the government to provide more resources for day-care services for dementia patients.

Gwen Wong May-wan, speaking at a forum yesterday, said there should be more public education on the disease. There are about 80,000 people suffering from the condition in Hong Kong.

More training for caregivers and families of dementia patients was needed, and caregivers should seek help from friends more often, Wong told a forum on care and support for dementia patients held at the Charles K. Kao Auditorium in the Hong Kong Science Park.

After the forum, Wong said that Kao would stay in Hong Kong longer because being with friends and neighbours was helpful for the 75-year-old 'father of fibre optics'.

Kao jointly won the Nobel Prize for physics in October last year for his achievements in the development of fibre-optic communications.

The couple, who settled in the San Francisco Bay area, had originally intended to be back in Hong Kong just for a series of celebration events to mark his 2009 Nobel prize.

But she and Kao had adjusted to living in Hong Kong again, a place they had previously lived in for a long time.

Wong said it was not easy to take care of her husband.

'It's stressful because it's a 24-hour job and you can't stop. He could get himself changed in the past but now he needs someone to help him change his clothes,' she said.

And there were times when Kao could not find the toilet when he woke up late at night.

She said it was sad to see a loved one losing their memory day after day.

The forum, organised by the Food and Health Bureau, attracted more than 200 medical people, service providers from the welfare sector and government officials.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok thanked Wong and Kao for raising public awareness of dementia patients in Hong Kong and their generous support of services for patients and carers.

Wong and the Chinese University plan to set up a fund named after Kao to support research into Alzheimer's disease.

Chow said family and carers played an important role in the nursing of dementia patients.

Besides providing physical assistance, they also offered spiritual support and encouragement to patients, he said.

Psychiatry professor Helen Chiu Fung-kum, of Chinese University, said 10.5 per cent of people older than 70 suffered dementia in 2007, up from 6 per cent in 1998, showing there was an upward trend in the disease.

She urged authorities to step up research into the treatment for dementia as it is now a problem for Hong Kong's ageing population.