Dementia strategy a matter of urgency

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2011, 12:00am


Dementia is moving up the list of modern killers because it is an incurable syndrome of ageing - most commonly in the form of Alzheimer's disease - and people are living longer. As a result dementia-related conditions have displaced diabetes among the five biggest non-communicable causes of death in Hong Kong. The 767 deaths last year could be an under-estimate, because the immediate cause is often other diseases such as pneumonia. Globally the number of dementia patients is expected to double from 36 million to 72 million in 20 years, according to Alzheimer's Disease International, a London-based non-profit group.

Given that few countries have kept up with the demand for medical nursing and care resources for dementia patients - and Hong Kong is no exception - these are sobering figures. Short of prevention or a cure which are not yet on the horizon, governments urgently need to do everything possible to raise public awareness of how to delay the onset of the disease and the quality of life of victims. Robert Yeoh of Alzheimer's Disease International says regular exercise can help delay onset of the condition, and treatment and care can greatly improve patients' quality of life. This is important because long-term care of a dementia victim is financially and psychologically stressful for the family and puts a heavy burden on health systems.

Experts say the one in 10 people who will get dementia in their 70s rises to three in 10 in their 80s. As it is now common for people to live into their 80s, every extended family should expect to experience dementia. United Nations recognition of dementia as an important cause of death that puts a heavy burden on national health-care systems ought to be the cue to the Hong Kong government to put a long-term strategy in place. Proposals for reform of health-care financing do not address it. The Health Department says the government will abide by international standards. Officials need to be more proactive in looking at policy and financing options.