Date
11 December 2017
As the average lifespan of the Hong Kong population has increased, the number of patients with dementia is expected to rise. Photo: HKEJ
As the average lifespan of the Hong Kong population has increased, the number of patients with dementia is expected to rise. Photo: HKEJ

Is forgetfulness a sign of dementia?

Have you ever tried to arrange a dinner date with friends at your favorite restaurant, then in the blink of an eye, you completely forget about the date and there you go again asking them to meet up?

This is a familiar experience with many elderly people who are often forgetful and having trouble recalling recent events. Are these symptoms of normal aging or is it dementia?

When people get older, it is natural that they do not remember things like they used to. It is not surprising if they occasionally forget to do their work or have difficulty remembering where they put certain daily items. And if they do have dementia, the level of their forgetfulness is drastically different.

Patients tend to forget recent events even after being reminded. They can also have zero memory of important information, such as suddenly forgetting when they should take medicine even though they do it every day.

Another example could be that they used to be a great cook and yet somehow mess up the cooking steps.

These are initial symptoms of dementia. Sufferers should see a doctor immediately for a detailed examination for early treatment.

The situation of some elderly people may worsen rapidly. One of the worst damages can be severe memory loss. For instance, some may completely forget their family members. They need long-term care as they can no longer care for themselves. Their biological clock may be upended, which means they may sleep during day time and stay awake at night.

Dementia cannot be completely cured but its symptoms can be suppressed by medications and therapies. Talking about past experiences and memories with  patients helps calm their feelings and boosts their confidence.

Reminiscence therapy is one of the most effective therapies. Here, patients’ brains would be stimulated to strengthen their cognitive abilities by encouraging them to do things they like or let them meet with friends and acquaintances.

As the average lifespan of the Hong Kong population has increased, the number of patients with dementia is expected to rise. By 2036, on average one out of every three 85-year-olds would have dementia. This is a pressing problem.

If you are near the age of retirement, you should pay close attention to your own condition. Visit a doctor and take a cognitive ability test if you are in doubt. Maintain a healthy diet with low fat, low sugar and low sodium and exercise more. These habits will stimulate the brain and prevent degradation.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 17

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

JC/JC/RA

Specialist in geriatric medicine, FHKAM (Medicine)

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