How to tell difference between memory loss and dementia's onset

Hongkongers with Alzheimer’s suffer from confusion and memory loss, so if you come across someone who is disoriented here are tips on how to help them

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 September, 2016, 5:32am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 September, 2016, 6:29pm

“Everyone has memory problems; when someone reminds you, you can remember, but those with dementia cannot recall at all,” says Maggie Lee Nga-yee of the Hong Kong Alzheimer’s Disease Association.

Early signs of dementia include a person repeating questions, being confused about time and place, and often forgetting to carry their keys with them. Some may go to the bank and repeatedly withdraw money, and can become confused about the balance of their account and complain to the teller.

Moderate dementia sufferers lose their temper and experience physical discomfort, but can’t articulate their problem. Those with advanced dementia can no longer talk and may not be able to care for themselves.

Who will care for Hong Kong’s growing number of people with Alzheimer’s?

There are tips for dealing with people who suffer from dementia. If you come across an elderly person who looks confused or disoriented, talk to them and ask if they know where they are going, Lee says.

“Don’t ask, ‘Where would you like to go?’ because they don’t know,” she says. “Don’t ask open-ended questions. Ask them yes/no questions to get more information.”

Wilfred Leung Chi-hang of the Charles K Kao Foundation for Alzheimer’s Disease suggests asking them if they are carrying a mobile phone and if they know their home number. Some may have contact information on them. Call and ask family members to pick them up. If not, inform the police. Relatives may have already filed a missing person’s report.

Some dementia sufferers become anxious when they wake up and don’t know where they are, feeling the need to escape, even at home. If a bus driver or frontline MTR worker doesn’t realise a commuter has dementia, they may allow the person to travel some distance before they are found.