Malaysia's former prime minister Abdullah Badawi has dementia

Malaysia's former prime minister Abdullah Badawi is now wheelchair-bound and "cannot function normally any more". PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's former prime minister Abdullah Badawi is suffering from dementia and no longer recognises nor remembers his family members, said Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.

Mr Khairy, who is the 82-year-old former Umno leader's son-in-law, said Tun Abdullah started showing signs of cognitive impairment shortly after retiring as Malaysia's fifth prime minister in 2009 and his condition has progressively worsened since then.

"It has been challenging for us to see the deterioration in his cognitive function. Some people are aware but many are not. The family has decided to openly share this, partly to shine a light on dementia and cognitive impairment," said Mr Khairy on Twitter on Sunday.

Popularly known as Pak Lah, Mr Abdullah resigned as prime minister in 2009 and was replaced by Najib Razak. Since then, he has kept a relatively low profile and been out of the public eye.

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Khairy spoke about Mr Abdullah's "cruel" condition at the launch of the Malaysian Conference of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Practice Guidelines on Management of Dementia and Schizophrenia.

He said Mr Abdullah is now wheelchair-bound and "cannot function normally any more".

"The body is there but the mind is not... He does not remember my name, my wife's name," said Mr Khairy, who is married to Ms Nori Abdullah. "The only reason I know he recognises me is the flicker in his eye when I visit him."

"There are more bad days than good. So keep him in your prayers and we hope for better days ahead," he said, as quoted by local daily New Straits Times.

Tweeting after the event, Mr Khairy elaborated: "This is also why he is no longer seen in public. Fortunately, we are able to provide professional care. Many others are not able to do so. It's important for us to invest in social care to support families who have loved ones that require constant care."

He added that the Health Ministry will push strongly for more investment in publicly funded social care for those who cannot afford it, in a bid to strengthen community-based care under the Health White Paper that is expected to be tabled in Parliament in November.

Dementia, an umbrella term for several diseases including Alzheimer's disease, is one of the major causes of disability among the elderly, said Alzheimer's Disease Foundation Malaysia.

The disease leads to deterioration in memory, impairs thinking and comprehension, changes behaviour, and affects a person's ability to perform everyday activities.

A 2018 survey by the Health Ministry's Institute for Public Health estimated the prevalence of probable dementia in people aged 60 years and over in Malaysia to be 8.5 per cent.

Following the news, social media was abuzz, with users expressing their get-well wishes for the former premier.

"Whether it's dementia, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or any other ailment associated with the aged, elderly and frail, the issue isn't how they cope but how those around them, their loved ones, family and caregivers manage (for want of a better word) them. That's the challenge. The person can't 'change' or adapt, we have to understand how to deal with them," said Twitter user @zazulazman in a reply to Mr Khairy's post.

"My family worked with Pak Lah as civil servants and diplomats, a kind, generous and humble man. It must be challenging for Khairy, Nori. Our prayers are with you all," he added.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.