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Dementia affecting more young people in China: experts
Publication Date : 08-10-2013
Unhealthy lifestyles and pressure are to blame, according to doctors
Dementia, a condition normally associated with old age, is increasingly affecting younger people in China, according to studies by Chinese doctors.
Dementia is a serious brain disorder that interferes with thinking, memory and the performance of daily activities.
According to the studies, the number of people suffering from dementia in China has more than doubled in the past two decades, but the average age of sufferers has dropped by 10 years. The studies show the average age of people with dementia dropping from 65 to 55 over the same period.
Figures for 1990 showed 3.68 million people suffering from the condition in China, while the figure for 2010 stood at more than 9 million, more than any other country, according to a study published in the British medical journal The Lancet.
Experts behind the researches said dementia in younger people has its roots in pressure and unhealthy lifestyles, including bad eating and drinking habits.
This year, a 39-year-old man from Hunan province was diagnosed with dementia, according to media reports.
The man has drunk a large amount of alcohol every day for more than 10 years, and found that his memory began to decline and his work was adversely affected. Doctors said the large amount of alcohol had damaged his brain and other parts of the nervous system, causing dementia.
Both hypertension and hyperlipidemia — high fat content in the blood — are increasingly affecting younger people in China, raising the chances of developing dementia.
Staying up late at night, smoking and drinking large amounts of alcohol are also contributory factors, according to Tan Peizhen, a neurology doctor from Hunan No 2 People's Hospital.
There are several types of dementia, each with particular causes and symptoms. Young people are most likely to be affected by Alzheimer's disease, and sufferers very often have a history of young-onset Alzheimer's in the family.
However, many young people are affected by vascular dementia, which is the second most common form of dementia in younger people and is caused by problems with the supply of blood to the brain.
"In addition to an increase in the number of Alzheimer's patients, the number of those suffering vascular dementia is also increasing," said Dong Qiang, a doctor at the neurology department of Shanghai Huashan Hospital.
"Some vascular risk factors such as hypertension and diabetes have emerged among younger people in recent years. And this may be one of the major reasons leading to vascular dementia."
Only 14 per cent of early dementia patients and 33 per cent of advanced dementia patients in China seek medical treatment, according to sources from a public event held by the Neurology Branch of Shanghai Medical Association.
Experts said lack of public awareness of the disease is a key reason.
Memory loss is one of the first symptoms of dementia. Other symptoms include forgetting things that have happened earlier in the day, getting confused about messages and people, and getting lost while out and about.
"There are common misconceptions about dementia. It's quite common for people to believe that the loss of memory is a normal part of aging," Dong said.
Besides, some patients may have problems with verbal expression and communication as they fail to use the right words for common things and get their words mixed up.
The low rates of diagnosis and treatment are also due to the lack of appropriate resources in hospitals across China, with few offering outpatient services for dysmnesa, or memory impairment, which can help with early identification and treatment, Dong said.
Of the more than 400 hospitals in Shanghai, for example, only 15 have outpatient services for dysmnesia.