22 October 2016

Stepping up measures to help the aging mentally disabled

The mentally disabled tend to age faster physically than mentally healthy people, a study on the aging of the mentally disabled in Hong Kong by the Polytechnic University found.

The study, published in June last year, showed that the aging process often takes place even faster among patients with Down syndrome.

Government statistics in 2014 estimated that there were 71,000-101,000 mentally disabled persons in our city, and their average life expectancy was 50-60 years.

As more and more mentally disabled people enter old age, the number of families in which elderly parents have to take care of their aging mentally disabled sons and daughters will be on the rise in the years ahead.

Many parents who are already in their 60s or 70s are not only feeling overwhelmed by the burden of having to care for their also aging mentally disabled children but are also very worried about the future of their kids after the parents die.

To address this pressing issue, I suggest the government formulate long-term measures in three major aspects to help these families:

First, the government should intensify its efforts at providing physical training and regular body check-up services for the mentally disabled, so as to delay their premature aging process and make sure they are capable of taking care of themselves.

Also, the administration should make permanent the ongoing pilot scheme providing regular dental care services for the mentally disabled.

Second, the administration should provide more support for elderly parents who have to take care of their mentally disabled children, such as counselling services and direct subsidies.

On the community level, the Health Department should provide more support for mentally disabled people who are living with their parents rather than in psychiatric facilities.

In the meantime, the government should establish a comprehensive case management system for the mentally disabled, under which every patient’s case will be followed up by a case manager stationed in the community.

Third, the administration must promptly address the issue of prolonged waiting times for places in public care homes for the mentally disabled.

The latest figures show the average waiting time for the moderately mentally disabled is 3.25 years, and it is eight years for the severely mentally disabled, which to me is completely unacceptable.

To ensure waiting times are kept to a minimum, the government must divert additional resources into building more public care homes.

The administration should also consider establishing nursing homes that specialize in taking care of aging mentally disabled patients and their elderly parents at the same time, so that they don’t have to be separated.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 20.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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The average waiting time for public care homes for the moderately mentally disabled is 3.25 years, and it is eight years for the severely mentally disabled. Photo: RTHK

Legislative councilor and head of nursing and health studies in the Open University of Hong Kong

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