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Speech by Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food (English only)


Following is a speech (English only) by the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong, at 5th Asian Pacific Regional Meeting of Alzheimer's Disease International today (September 5):

Mrs Tung, Dr Graham1, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to Hong Kong. I am delighted to be here this evening to officiate at the Opening Ceremony of the 5th Asian Pacific Regional Meeting of Alzheimer's Disease International.

We in Hong Kong are very happy to share our experiences in helping people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. There is no known cause of Alzheimer's disease, but the most significant risk factor is old age. I would therefore like to start by giving you an overview of our policy on care for elders.

As in many places in the world, Hong Kong's population is ageing. The proportion of the population aged 65 or above will grow from 11.4 per cent in 2002 to 17.9 per cent in 2022.

In 1997, the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region designated 'Care for Elders' as one of the strategic policy objectives, with the aim of improving the quality of life of our elders and providing them with a sense of security, a sense of belonging, and a feeling of health and worthiness.

I wish to point out that most of the elders in Hong Kong are healthy. We are promoting the concept of healthy ageing in the community, using a life-course approach. By emphasizing healthy lifestyles, disease prevention, lifelong learning, and supportive environments, we aim to reduce and delay the number of people becoming functional dependent, and requiring long term care.

Nevertheless, with an ageing population, the absolute number of elders who require care on a long term basis will increase. Our long term care system is structured around two main forms of care delivery: community and residential care. The objective is to provide quality and cost-effective care for our frail elders, and appropriate support for their carers.

We will pursue several key initiatives. Building on the basis of a standardised and internationally recognized care need assessment tool, we plan to put in place a central registration system for subsidized long term care services, to provide a single entry point for elders with care needs. To better address the needs of both healthy and frail elders, as well as their carers, we will rationalize and re-engineer a wide spectrum of existing community care and support services.

I would now turn to the subject of Alzheimer and dementia care. While we do not know what exactly causes Alzheimer's disease, we know it is the leading cause of dementia. There has been ongoing progress in the past hundred years in identification of the causes of Alzheimer's disease, ever since Professor Alois Alzheimer treated his first patient in 1901 in Germany. Advances in the genetics of Alzheimer's disease have shown that particular genes are associated with increased risk of the disease. These findings provide opportunities for further development of gene therapy. Advances in molecular and cellular biology have suggested that the disease might be mediated by the immune system and therefore might be treatable. In Hong Kong, as in most overseas countries, these drugs, including acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, are made available to patients who can benefit from such treatment.

Dementia can cause people to exhibit unusual and unpredictable behaviours. These challenging behaviours can lead to frustration and tension, for both the persons with the diseases and their carers. Therefore, it is important to help families, health care professionals and the public at large to recognize the warning signs.

Within the long term care framework, the government has been taking various measures to address the needs of elders with dementia, and their families and carers. We believe it is important for people with the illnesses and their families to receive information, care and support as early as possible. This will give them time to make choices and adjustments that maximize their quality of life.

We provide primary health care services to elders, including early detection of cognitive impairment through health screening, and outreaching visits to residential care homes, providing assessment and treatment to elders with dementia.

Our primary goal is to assist elders with dementia to stay in the community for as long as possible. Elders affected and their carers can receive tailor-made help at home and in the community, through our enhanced home and community care services. In addition, there is a wide range of support services for carers. These include carers' support centers; support groups; counseling; training; and day and residential respite.

For individuals with dementia who need residential care, we will upgrade and expand existing services to provide specialized and tailor made programmes for frail elders and those with dementia. For new contracted residential care homes, we will be seeking the provision of innovative facilities and services that recognize the special needs of elders with dementia: for example, home like environment, personalized private space, safe wandering paths, common socializing areas, personalized care, and flexible care routines. We also provide training to enhance the capability of professional and care staff in elderly service units serving elders with dementia.

I have given an outline of our policies on long term care for elders, and our services for elders with dementia in particular. The 5th Asian Pacific Regional Meeting of Alzheimer's Disease International provides a valuable opportunity for experience sharing and learning from each other. May I wish the Regional Meeting every success. Thank you.

End/Thursday, September 5, 2002


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