Nation to target early signs of trouble, especially illnesses tied to dementia
Even though China increased its average life span to 77 years last year, the country's seniors often live the last eight years of their lives in poor health, the National Health Commission said on July 29.
The average healthy life expectancy in China-an indicator used by the World Health Organization to measure years of good health a newborn can expect-stands at 68.7 years, meaning severe diseases drag down the quality of life for the elderly for nearly a decade, said Wang Haidong, director of the commission's aging and health department.
"There are more than 180 million seniors with chronic conditions and 40 million living with disabilities," he said, adding that China is home to about 250 million people aged 60 or older, accounting for 18 percent of the population.
The country aims to reduce the disability rate for those aged 65 to 74 and curtail the rising rates of dementia among those 65 or over in the next decade, according to a health promotion plan issued by the State Council earlier this month.
Chen Zheng, head of the Beijing Geriatric Hospital, said occurrences of disabilities are closely tied to chronic illnesses, especially cardiovascular diseases and malignant tumors.
"Multiple chronic diseases will first lead to severe complications such as sleep disorder, chronic pain and urinary incontinence," he said. "Gradually, critical conditions including strokes and respiratory failure might surface and result in disabilities."
Chen said it is therefore significant to precisely detect early signs of disability and allow elderly patients to receive effective diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
According to Wang, the department of aging and health, which was established in September during a government reshuffle, has been improving grassroots medical services targeting the older population by conducting more physical examinations for the elderly and formulating new guidelines intended to smooth out services at elderly-oriented hospitals.
As China's population ages, the number of people living with age-related dementia is also climbing.
"It is estimated that more than 9 million elderly people have dementia in China. The number is projected to reach 40 million by 2050," said Li Zhixin, a senior official with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. "In order to curb the rates, it is crucial to perform long-term monitoring and carry out early interventions among the group, which demonstrates a higher risk of developing dementia.
"Research shows that hearing loss, obesity, tobacco use, depression and lack of exercise or social interaction are among factors that are closely linked to dementia. If we can effectively prevent and control these factors, the incidence rate of dementia is likely to drop by 40 percent."
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