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Do Not Forget This Challenge: “Alzheimer in China”

by | September 22, 2015

Do Not Forget This Challenge: “Alzheimer in China”

by | September 22, 2015

The average life expectancy of the Chinese population increased over the last decades. In 2014, the expectancy was 76.5 years old, compared to only 60 years old in 1970. On top of that, China has known a surge in births in the 1950’s, whereas the “one-child-policy” was introduced in the 1970’s. Combined, this implies that China is becoming an ageing country at a much faster rate than any other middle-income countries, for example India.

This has a severe consequence for the already pressured health care system in China. An ageing country implies an increased need for healthcare. The current public system is straining from overload, and the State Council ranks public hospital reform as a top priority. By doing so, (foreign) investment is suspected to increase rapidly. It is estimated by McKinsey & Company that health care spending in China will grow to $1 trillion by 2020, up from just over $350 billion in 2011. Although many facets in the health care industry can improve, this article shortly elaborates on a widely underestimated problem in China; namely Alzheimer.

According to a study in The Lancet (2013), there were 3.68 million Chinese suffering from Alzheimer in 1990. This number has increased to 9.19 million people in 2010 and is likely to have increased in the last 5 years. This is the world’s largest group of Alzheimer patients. If you then consider that China only has 4 hospitals specialized in Dementia, and around 300 doctors across China qualified to treat dementia, one can realize that this is a problem. Last year, Bloomberg (2014) published an interesting article underlining this problem. The solution to this cannot only be found in importing the right medication and knowledge from abroad. The real solution to this problem lies deeper, and requires understanding of the Chinese culture.

” They are better off than many elderly couples in China, where traditional family structures, once built on the assumption that large families would care for their aged, are under increasing stress. For decades, China’s family planning laws have permitted only one child per couple in many parts of the country. That policy has brought about a shortage of caregivers. The “informal system of family care might break down with the large internal migration, rapid rise in the cost of living, reduced family size, and fewer young family members,” says Lancet author Chan, who specializes in population health studies at the University of Edinburgh.”  Bloomberg, 2014.

In China, society revolves more around family than in the West. This implies that elderly stay at home, with their children and grandchildren. Moreover, the current working middle class in China is hiring Ayi’s (housekeepers) to take care of their parents. China does not have a system with retirement’s home as the West knows. As a consequence, a very different approach should be used when tackling the Alzheimer problem in China. How does one deal with their parents or close ones suffering from Alzheimer when there is no adequate medication, specialized hospital or localized nursing home in the neighborhood?

Some time ago, I spoke to an international doctor who indicated that there are major challenges in the implementation in China. She indicated that rather than just importing knowledge and medication, the right people need to be trained. This could be in the form of specialized Alzheimer departments in hospitals. But this is just for the severe cases of Alzheimer. Instead, it would be a good solution if Ayi’s would be trained to aid patients. However, for this a whole new training manual needs to be developed. One cannot just ‘copy’ the approach that especially Netherlands and Denmark are globally famous for. Moreover, this takes not only expertise, but also time and willingness from hospitals, government and locals. Even though the realization has come, China is still very far from successful implementing this tailored approach.

What happened in the year 1421?

From 1421 to 1423, during the Ming Dynasty of China under Emperor Zhu Di (朱棣) the fleets of Admiral Zheng He (鄭和), commanded by the Chinese captains, discovered Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Antarctica, the Northeast Passage; and circumnavigated Greenland.

Due to this endeavour we can conclude that “1421 is the year that the Chinese discover the world”.