There’s a new case of Alzheimer’s disease somewhere in the world every four seconds—and, for China, that can spell disaster.
China already has the world’s largest group of Alzheimer’s sufferers with 9.2 million afflicted, according to a 2013 article in the medical journal Lancet. Yet, with only 300 qualified doctors to treat them, more than 90 percent of cases go undetected.
Even so, the World Health Organization estimates that Alzheimer’s patients in China will hit 11.7 million by 2020, which means that one out of every 10 Alzheimer’s patients worldwide will be Chinese.
Although countries from the United States to France also struggle with Alzheimer’s, the stakes are higher in China, where the numbers are poised to balloon as the population ages and rapid industrialization boosts risk factors from pollution to diabetes, according to a recent Bloomberg story.
Thirty years ago, the population over 65 was only 5 percent. Today, nearly 124 million people, about 10 percent of the population, have reached what’s supposed to be their golden years. By 2050, China’s older population will swell to 330 million, or a quarter of its total population.
“An aging society can be followed by many problems and the most crucial one is that of chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s,” Fang Yiru, director of the Shanghai Mental Health Center, told the All-China Women’s Federation.
To make matters worse, too many Chinese don’t even realize the condition is a disease. For them, a parent losing his memory and suffering from lapses in judgment and language ability, is just a sign of old age. In June, nearly half of respondents to an online survey considered dementia as a normal aging process.
But the ugly reality is that the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s are not part of the natural process of aging.
The misconception and lack of awareness of the disease prevent those afflicted from receiving proper care.
“Caring for most dementia sufferers in China is left to family members with no or limited training or support from the state and at considerable physical, psychological, and financial costs to the caregivers,” says Kit Yee Chan, lead author of the Lancet article.
Fang from Shanghai Mental Health Center said: “Some diseases, especially Alzheimer’s, which usually surface in the process of aging but are actually not a part of normal aging, should be given more attention. Alzheimer’s permanently damages the brain’s nerve cells. The pain not only tortures the patients but also their family members.”
Zhang Xinqing, an expert on senile dementia from Beijing Xuanwu Hospital, said about 40 percent of elderly people over 80 in Beijing are suffering from dementia, among whom about 80 percent are those afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease, according to All-China Women’s Federation.
“Treating and managing Alzheimer’s should be promoted to the public. Though the condition cannot be reversed, the symptoms can be improved, which means the quality of life for sufferers can also be improved accordingly, thus delaying its progression,” Zhang said.
According to the Bloomberg report, recent findings link Alzheimer’s to air pollution, which has surged in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Evidence also shows that diabetes, smoking, high-fat diets, and hypertension are risk factors for Alzheimer’s.
“If someone is going to have Alzheimer’s, China is a rough place to have it,” Benjamin Shobert, managing director of Rubicon Strategy Group, which advises companies on the senior-care market, told Bloomberg. “Aging will be the biggest crisis of the century for China, and Alzheimer’s is at the crux of the problem.”
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks like walking, talking and eating. Survival after diagnosis can range from four to 20 years.
Based on personal experience with my dad, Alzheimer’s is an issue that China needs to deal with.
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