Listen to #Hashtag Hong Kong every Sunday morning at 8.15
Focussing on issues affecting civil society, we'll hear from representatives of NGOs, associations, statutory bodies, and non-profit groups.
(Sundays 8.15am - 8.25am)
“File does not exist” …….
“This file is corrupted and cannot be opened” …….
These may be common problems in our daily computer use.
Then how about the brains of people with dementia? Memory and the files in their brain are always broken and difficult to recall.
Dementia is a degenerative disease of the brain. The deterioration usually starts very slowly, being forgetful at first. Eventually, it can develop into obvious memory loss, inability to self-care, being lost, not recognising loved ones and forgetting important moments in life.
“Who are you?”, “Where am I?” are heartbreaking questions but repeated by people with dementia at every moment. Please remember, Dementia is not normal ageing, but a disease that causes memories to fade from the recent to distant past.
In Hong Kong, about 10% of people over the age of 65 live with dementia, and over the age of 85 is as high as one-third. We all know that Hong Kong is facing an ageing population and the prevalence of dementia will sharply increase. There are currently about hundred and fifty thousand people living with dementia in Hong Kong. The number will double in the next 15 years. However, is Hong Kong ready for the silver tsunami?
The development of a comprehensive plan for dementia care by our policymakers would be the crucial way out for our future. Countries or cities around us, such as China, Macau, Singapore, and Japan, have already developed national plans to prepare society for the challenges. But we are still in its infancy.
“Never too Early, Never too Late” is the theme of World Alzheimer’s Month this year. We aim to arouse everyone’s importance on risk reduction in delaying and potentially preventing the onset of dementia. I think policy planning should also be “never too early, never too late”, We need to take action before family caregivers, and our health and social care systems collapse.
Different interventions are effective in dementia management. It is imperative to grasp the golden opportunity in the earliest stage. Unfortunately, the diagnostic rate of dementia has remained at only 10% for the past few decades. That means the majority of the people living with dementia are still without proper interventions and support.
Memory problems in the early stage can easily be mistaken as signs of normal ageing. Neither the people with dementia nor their families and friends realize it until more obvious problems happen in their daily lives. Moreover, family size in Hong Kong is getting smaller and there are more and more childless couples, early symptoms may go unnoticed if people do not interact closely in day-to-day life.
Public education to increase awareness of early signs of dementia, easily accessible diagnostic services, and shorten waiting time, all of these should be put into action.
Dementia is referred to as the “long goodbye”, our beloved seems to be becoming a stranger slowly. In my 20 years of walking with families, I know too well how frustrating it can be when a loved one has dementia. But I keep encouraging the families to appreciate what our beloved can still do and remember, and try to keep them for as long as possible. We may worry about the next deterioration coming, but while waiting for the future, what deserves more attention is the current him/her.
If you or your beloved are living with dementia, don’t give up. Drugs can help. Different brain-stimulating activities and caring techniques can ease the symptoms or slow down the deterioration. Equipment and technology can help to make life easier. We are here to walk through it with you. You are not alone, just let us know.
If you are healthy, congratulations, but remember “Never too early, Never too late”, take actions to reduce the risk factors of dementia. A healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, healthy and balanced diet, stay mentally and socially active. All these can help. Please remember to use and keep your brain active or you will lose it.
September is World Alzheimer’s Month, an international campaign initiated by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) to raise awareness and remove the stigma of dementia. As the sole member of ADI in Hong Kong, we invite you to join us in caring about the brain health of your families, neighbours and friends, supporting those living with dementia around you and seeing if we can help.
Finally, I’d like to dedicate the song “I'm Not Gonna Miss You” by Glen Campbell to all people with dementia and their caregivers. The disease may take the memory, but not of the love you share and cherish.
As the population ages, more people find caring for their elderly loved ones falling on their shoulders. While the population of Hong Kong increased only by 5% between 2011 and 2021, the population of centenarians, people aged 100 or more, increased by more than 6 folds.
In light of the rapid increase in the population of adults of advanced age, say nonagenarians and centenarians, in collaboration with The University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Shue Yan University, The Hong Kong Council of Social Service recently conducted the second round of the Hong Kong Centenarian Study (with the first round taking place in 2011) with 151 families and found that most caregivers of centenarians are their children, with many of them being between 65-74 years old (43%).
This phenomenon of “the elderly caring for even older seniors” is common in Hong Kong. It poses significant challenges, including physical fatigue, emotional stress, social isolation, and financial burden, adversely impacting caregivers’ health and well-being.
The biggest challenge faced by elderly caregivers is physical and mental fatigue. Caring for a loved one requires a lot of strength and energy, which can be even more taxing for elderly caregivers with health issues. They may have to frequently lift or support a frail loved one, provide assistance in daily living, and perform other tasks that can strain their bodies continually.
Emotional stress is another challenge, particularly when caring involves complex or arduous needs. For example, tending to a loved one with dementia or other cognitive impairments requires infinite patience and constant attention, which can be frustrating and overwhelming. Many caregivers wish to see their older loved ones through and are motivated to provide as much care to their older relatives as possible. Despite such high motivation to care, their strains may elevate to a point where their mental and physical health is compromised, which is when nursing home placements are considered.
Caregivers may also feel isolated and burnt out, as they often have to sacrifice socialising with friends and family or their interests. This can spiral into depression and anxiety, further exacerbating their struggles.
The financial burden is another challenge that elderly caregivers may grapple with, especially those who are retired and living on a fixed income. In other words, their financial resources, whether from their own children or governmental subsidies, are often shared with their older loved ones. The study mentioned above showed that 83.2% of caregivers had a monthly income below $30,000, and 70.5% of respondents earned below the poverty line of $20,000 for a 4-person household (CSD, 2020). 48.3% of caregivers expressed financial pressure.
So, what can be done to aid elderly caregivers facing these problems? Here are a few suggestions:
1) Seeking out community resources, including respite care, support groups, and counselling services. Elderly caregivers should also reach out to family and friends for help, as small gestures can make a big difference.
2) It is also essential for caregivers to prioritise their health and well-being by taking time for themselves, pursuing hobbies and interests, or getting mental health support when needed. Caregivers who look after themselves are better equipped to watch over their loved ones in the long run.
3) Sometimes, it may be necessary to hire a professional caregiver to assist with the needs of a loved one. With the advance in technology, some products help, such as fall prevention equipment and health-monitoring smart devices. Caregiver subsidies or financial subsidies for using Gerontechnology in the community would help.
Taking care of an elderly loved one can be arduous and emotionally draining, particularly for caregivers themselves, seniors. By seeking out available resources, asking for help from family and friends, being mindful of self-care, and appraising professional assistance, elderly caregivers can get the support they need to navigate the challenges and provide the best care possible for their loved ones.
And now I have a song I'd like to dedicate to all of you listening. My song is: You’ve Got a Friend by Carole King