Study links memory loss to drug abuse

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 July, 2010, 12:00am

Sing Chai (a pseudonym), aged 19, quit school after half a year of studying for an associate degree in fashion design, a qualification he had long wanted to achieve.

This was because, after using drugs for 18 months, he suffered from memory loss that left him unable to study effectively.

'I feel remorseful for giving up my dream because of drug abuse ... the adverse effect is so great that one cannot imagine it,' he said. Sing Chai was among many drug abusers who have suffered memory loss and impaired motor coordination that affected their daily lives.

A study that lasted for 21 months showed that 79 per cent of young drug abusers suffered from memory loss and 72.4 per cent had problems in motor coordination.

Some 63 drug abusers aged 12-25 from Northern District and Tin Shui Wai took part in the study. They had used drugs for 2.8 years on average.

The study, co-organised by The Social Services of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Society for Adolescent Health and the Hong Kong Occupational Therapy Association, included questionnaires as well as two tests commonly used by occupational therapists to assess memory and muscle coordination, and counselling. The tests included having to memorise short sentences, copy basic diagrams, pass a thread through beads and follow instructions to finish simple tasks. Leader of the study was paediatrics specialist Dr Fung Wai-ching, who said, 'Some tasks can be completed by kids as young as 4 or 5. But some drug abusers just cannot manage to finish them.'

The study also found that teenagers who abused drugs before the age of 15 showed more neurological symptoms like memory loss and lisping, or psychiatric symptoms including suffering from illusions and depression than those who started to abuse drugs after the age of 15. Dr Fung said more research is needed to find out why the dividing line is 15.

Stanley Cheung Kwok-chung, assistant team leader of Northern District Youth Outreaching Social Work Team, said that instead of conducting assessments of drug abusers' current problems they had, more emphasis should be put on helping them to recover.

Cheung also suggested the anti-drug campaign should be extended to primary schools.

Negative statistic

Of 63 drug abusers aged from 12-25, those who suffered the worst symptoms later in life had started using drugs when they were aged below: 15