A local study showed that nearly 9% of people aged 70 or above were suffering from different degrees of dementia, in which the prevalence increased with age. Although most people with dementia are older adults, it is possible for people aged under 65 to suffer from early onset dementia.
If people suffer from dementia, decline in cognitive function is beyond what might be expected from normal ageing. Besides memory, other cognitive functions such as comprehension, judgement and language ability also decline obviously. All these will cause inconvenience to daily life. They may also need more assistance and care from others gradually.
Suspected of suffering from dementia, our immediate reaction may be fear, fearing that we may gradually “lose” ourselves or “lose” our most beloved ones. This is perfectly understandable. Fortunately, studies show that early detection and proper treatment can help delay the decline in cognitive function, and maintain quality of life.
At the early stage of dementia, affected individuals may become forgetful of recent events, leading to repeated questioning or repeatedly doing the same thing. Sometimes, they may suspect their belongings are stolen as they cannot remember where they have put them. They may experience difficulties with communication because they may be unable to find the appropriate words or to comprehend abstract concepts.
In daily life, they may forget appointments or get lost since they get confused with time, place and people. Their judgment and comprehension may be impaired. For example, they may no longer be able to deal with their financial matters independently. Besides, their ability to cope with emergencies may also decline. They may even find difficulty in doing things they used to be familiar with, e.g. cooking, laundry, bathing, etc.
Since the ability to control behaviour is impaired, they may act inappropriately in the public, e.g. talking about private issues openly. Some of them may have difficulty in controlling their emotions, hence becoming emotionally unstable, anxious or suspicious. Some may even become passive and lose interest in people or matters they were previously concerned.
What can you do if you or someone you know have similar conditions?
Step One: Professional Assessment
If you or your family member is suspected to be suffering from dementia, do seek consultation from doctors as soon as possible in order to get proper treatment.
Step Two: Appropriate Treatment and Support
Numerous evidence-based drug and non-drug treatments are now available to help delay the decline in cognitive function, and alleviate emotional and behavioral disturbance.
Doctors may prescribe drugs for treating dementia considering the etiology and the individual’s condition. Those who are affected by mental distress, such as feeling down or insomnia, can enquire doctors whether drug treatment is needed.
Cognitive training, daily living skills training, and appropriate physical and social activities can all promote the affected individuals’ communication, orientation and self-care abilities, delaying the decline in cognitive function. Adjustment in daily life, such as assisting the individuals to arrange regular daily schedule, building up a safe and comfortable living environment, utilising tools like dairy and home cue to reduce inconvenience, can help improve quality of life.
Support and Training to Carers
The affected individuals may need help for self-care, so participating in carers’ support and training, like communication skills workshops, can help understand dementia, master caregiving skills, and resolve different difficult situations.
Step Three: Listen Empathetically and Walk together
Keeping good communication with the affected individuals will not only help understand their constraints and needs, but also provide them with support and alleviate their helplessness, thereby enhancing mutual relationship and quality of life.
- Chat in noisy places.
- Communicate with ordering, yelling or in the way with kids.
- Argue with the affected individuals when they hold a different view because it only makes both parties feel worse.
- Emphasise non-verbal communication, e.g. calm attitude, eye contact, smile, etc.
- Understand and accept others’ feelings. Judging right or wrong should be of a less concern.
- Give the other space and time to calm down first when argument arises.
On the journey of caregiving, carers face long-term challenges physically and mentally. Support from family and friends, as well as utilising community resources, e.g. participation in family support group, can significantly reduce carers’ stress. Carers have to take good care of themselves first to walk together with the affected individuals.
If you wish to get more relevant information, please call:
Department of Health - Elderly Health Service 24-hour Hotline: 2121 8080
Hospital Authority Mental Health 24-hour Hotline: 2466 7350
Social Welfare Department 24-hour Hotline: 2343 2255
Christian Family Service Centre - Mind-Lock Memory and Cognitive Training Centre: 2793 2138
Hong Kong Alzheimer’s Disease Association: 2338 1120
Jockey Club Centre for Positive Ageing: 2636 6323
St. James Settlement - Kin Chi Dementia Care Support Service Centre: 2831 3220