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Research focused on tackling future rise in dementia cases

By Wang Xiaodong | China Daily | Updated: 2016-11-22 07:36

On a Saturday morning in October, Zhang Zhenxin, a professor specializing in dementia at Peking Union Medical College Hospital, talked with a 61-year-old retiree at a community in a suburb of Beijing.

"It started about three to four years ago," said the retiree, surnamed Liu. "I'd been taking pills every day for many years to reduce cholesterol, but I found myself starting to forget to take them."

Liu, who suspected he might be developing dementia, was asked questions by Zhang about his experiences and hobbies, and asked to perform simple memory, language and visual tests.

"For the present, there's no sign of dementia," Zhang said. "But that could change in the future."

The survey, conducted by Zhang at Taikang endowment community, is part of national scientific research on early diagnosis and prevention of Alzheimer's disease, which is plaguing China's elderly and is expected to place even more of a burden on China's rapidly aging population.

Research focused on tackling future rise in dementia cases

The issue of aging has drawn attention at the ongoing Ninth Global Conference on Health Promotion in Shanghai.

Luo Yimin, chief engineer of the National Research Center for Rehabilitation and Assistive Devices, said a satellite meeting on healthy aging at the conference heard that China is expected to have a significant number of fully or partially disabled senior citizens, including those with dementia, and the government should take pre-emptive measures to meet the challenges of caring for them.

Currently, about 40 million senior citizens require long-term care in China and only 5 percent live in nursing homes, official statistics show.

Estimates from the National Health and Family Planning Commission showed China is likely to have 97 million disabled senior citizens by 2050.

The number of dementia patients in China in 2010 exceeded 9 million, the most in the world, according to a report published in The Lancet medical journal. A report by China Region Development and Reform Institute forecast the number to reach 22 million by 2040.

"The key to overcoming the disease is in early diagnosis and intervention," Zhang said.

To cope with the rising challenges posed by an expected surge in the cases of Alzheimer's disease, a major type of dementia, China this year initiated a major research project on the disease which will extend to 2020, hoping to achieve research breakthroughs on factors that contribute to the disease as well as early and precision diagnosis, prevention and effective treatment of the disease.

For Zhang, a leading member participating in the research, the survey he conducted at Taikang is an important part of the whole project. Zhang's team in Beijing and other teams from 14 top hospitals across China, including in Shanghai, Xi'an, Chongqing, Fuzhou, Suzhou and Wuhan, plan to survey 4,000 volunteers aged 50 and older.

The doctors will keep tracking their subjects and provide timely intervention if early signs of dementia appear, she said.

Meanwhile, with the latest technologies, researchers from other institutes, such as BGI, a leading genomics research institute based in Shenzhen, will use the collected samples to focus on inspection of genes and test of proteins that may cause the disease, in hope of identifying early-stage patients and providing them with effective treatment.

Through cooperation between different teams, researchers involved in the project hope to get a clearer understanding of the disease, including who will get the disease and how it will develop, Zhang said.

wangxiaodong@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 11/22/2016 page5)

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