When Kay Ho found bags of red dates and longans piling in the refrigerator at her mother’s place two years ago, she realised her mother was becoming forgetful. The 44-year-old said her mother, now 70, who was diagnosed with early-stage dementia, kept buying things only to forget about them. Then she started forgetting the way home in Sha Tin, where she lived with her husband. Once, when her husband was travelling, she repeatedly asked for his whereabouts every day. Ho said her mother’s condition deteriorated rapidly, and the family was at a loss about where to seek help. Hong Kong facilities qualified to provide dementia diagnosis and care were overwhelmed with patients, and her mother refused to visit a doctor, as she thought it was too shameful. “I felt so frustrated and helpless,” she said. Third of Hongkongers over 80 will have dementia by 2050 Dementia generally occurs among people over 65, and the risk increases with age. There is currently no cure for it. The prevalence rate of dementia in Hong Kong is estimated to be 5 to 8 per cent among those over 65, and 20 to 30 per cent for those over 80. Experts say diagnosis and post-diagnostic support during the early stages of the disease is critical, but Hong Kong lags in this area. The city ranked 22nd out of 30 cities worldwide in dementia innovation readiness, according to the Dementia Innovation Readiness Index 2020: 30 Global Cities , released this month by the Global Coalition on Ageing, Alzheimer’s Disease International, and the Lien Foundation. It ranked 19th in the category of early detection and diagnosis. To support early diagnosis and intervention for those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and early dementia, the Jockey Club Centre for Positive Ageing (JCCPA), a non-profit organisation dedicated to the care of people with dementia, launched the three-year Jockey Club Post-Diagnostic Support in Dementia Care Programme in February 2019. Love and dementia: 70-year-old cares for wife who cannot remember him The programme, which runs through January 2022, targets people aged 50 or above who are suspected of having MCI or early dementia, then provides them with an electronic cognitive screening, assessment, medical consultation, diagnosis and post-diagnostic support. A team from Chinese University (CUHK) developed the electronic cognitive screening, which can be completed online in five minutes and provides an assessment of their condition immediately after. Team leader Professor Timothy Kwok Chi-yui, from the department of medicine and therapeutics at CUHK, said the long waiting time for a diagnosis at a public hospital – one to two years on average due to the volume of residents seeking help – could cause patients to miss out on a critical period for intervention and care. The new screening application, he said, would enable patients to learn about their condition early and receive relevant help. The ‘dementia tsunami’ and why Hong Kong isn’t ready to cope with it “Dementia is a gradual, irreversible process. That’s why we need to learn about the condition early, so we can intervene early to delay deterioration,” he said. “It is important to take preventive measures at early stages, instead of dealing with it when the condition already worsens.” Kwok, also director of the JCCPA, said the centre hoped some 10,000 people would take the new test, which was launched in January at the JCCPA, and will be made publicly available in mobile application stores by the end of the year. So far, about 1,000 people have taken the screening, and the centre has followed up with about 100 of them. People who fail the test will be referred to NGOs the centre has partnered with for further assessment, as well as consultation and diagnosis from general practitioners. Upon diagnosis, both patients and their carers will receive six to nine months of post-diagnostic support, including providing them the knowledge and skills required to deal with dementia, and organising peer-to-peer activities, according to the JCCPA. Hong Kong families bear burden of dementia as patient numbers rise The programme also hopes to train 150 general practitioners in early diagnosis of dementia. “We emphasise that having dementia is not an individual matter, but a matter for an entire family,” Kwok said. “It needs the involvement of patients, carers, families and professionals.” Ho’s mother just recently completed the programme, which she started around the end of last year. She said her mother’s condition had stabilised, and she and her siblings had learned to cope with it. Instead of visiting their parents once a week, they now visit them twice a week to spend more time with their mother. She often takes her seven-year-old son along, while she plays mahjong and table tennis with her mother. “Our family relationship has become closer than ever,” she said.