The time to deal with dementia is now
Authorities on the mainland and in Hong Kong are lagging far behind, but can begin the process by improving public education and planning for the future
Dementia is a bothersome word for governments. The progressive neurological disorder, the most prevalent type being Alzheimer’s disease, has no cure or effective treatment and being closely linked to ageing, is affecting an ever-increasing number of people in places such as China and Japan. Effectively dealing with it therefore requires educating the public about the symptoms, knowing the scale of the problem and ensuring care for sufferers and support for their families.
In this regard, Hong Kong is doing a particularly poor job. There are no firm statistics as to the number of Hongkongers suffering from dementia; the crude estimate is 100,000 with the number expected to triple by 2039. By 2050, experts predict a third of the population aged 80 or above will have dementia. But guesswork is not a strategy, as until there is a cure, the matter has to be about caring for sufferers and those most burdened are families.
The crux of care is straightforward: families, doctors and social workers need to work together. The authorities have an important role to play through ensuring the community is educated about the disease and making sure that doctors can spot those afflicted at an early stage. There has to be an adequate number of care facilities and well-trained staff. Inattention has been vividly highlighted by accounts of ill-treatment of patients in residential care and of parents or grandparents wandering off unnoticed and later being found in dangerous situations or worse.
That there is a stigma in society associated with dementia does not help. It arises from a lack of awareness and understanding, preventing people from being diagnosed at an early stage, seeking medical treatment and making plans for the future. Such thinking also affects the search for a cure, with people reluctant to take part in clinical trials. A government that acknowledges the problem and the need for action is a necessity. Japan and some Nordic countries are among those that are effectively responding to the problem. Authorities on the mainland and in Hong Kong are lagging far behind, but can begin the process by improving public education.