Undiagnosed early-onset Alzheimer’s disease can pose a great threat to the family of the patient and result in the unnecessary squandering of healthcare resources, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers said yesterday.
“It is estimated that one out of every thousand people has early-onset dementia. That would mean there are about 20,000 people with the easily misdiagnosed disorder in Taiwan,” DPP Legislator Chao Tien-lin (趙天麟) told a press conference organized with DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇).
During the press conference, Liu Hui-fang (劉慧芳), the wife of a man with early-onset dementia, shared her story.
Liu’s husband first exhibited symptoms when he was 54.
He was taken to visit a total of 13 medical divisions to undergo testing for sleep apnea, high blood pressure, diabetes and mental illness, and swallowed thousands of pills, but none of the medical experts diagnosed her husband with dementia, Liu said.
“After finding that medical advice was of no use, we tried religious alternatives, such as having priests perform exorcisms, holding a three-day prayer ceremony and asking for help from a psychic,” Liu said.
Liu said she was informed by the bank that her husband had mortgaged their house for NT$15 million (US$511,000) and she later found out he was scammed out of a large amount of money through a telephone swindle.
During one of their multiple visits to medical facilities, a physician told Liu that her husband had an “organic mental disorder,” but did not inform her what that was or how to deal with it.
“For eight years, we were clueless and helpless,” Liu said. “It was not until a social worker said my husband might be suffering from dementia that we sought help from the Taiwan Alzheimer’s Disease Association, where we were able to get information about the disease and emotional support.”
Association secretary-general Tang Li-yu (湯麗玉) said that one of every seven people they provided services to was aged under 65.
“Dementia patients are a neglected group. The general public has little understanding of the disease, and the medical system is likewise unfamiliar with it,” Tang said. “We are calling on the government to scale up efforts in raising awareness of the disorder, starting in our educational system.”
More urgent is the setup of special outpatient services for people with dementia, where patients and their families can obtain information about the disease and consultation on post-diagnosis care, Tang said.
Tien said that “it is also important for specialized physicians to have sufficient knowledge of dementia through in-service training and be alert for the disorder,” as people have to be aware of the disease before they can seek medical attention for it.
Wang Tsung-hsi (王宗曦), an official in the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Department of Medical Affairs, said that more than 75 percent of regional educational hospitals in the country have, as requested by the Legislative Yuan last year, set up special outpatient services and that number will reach 100 percent by the end of this year.