On September 21, 2023, the world marked the 30th "World Alzheimer's Day." Currently, China is home to approximately 10 million Alzheimer's patients, the highest number globally. As the aging population grows, the incidence of dementia, primarily Alzheimer's disease, continues to rise.
On September 20, institutions including the Alzheimer's Disease Branch of the China Geriatric Health Association jointly released the "Insight Report on the Needs of Alzheimer's Patients" (hereafter referred to as the "Report"). The Report indicates a trend of Alzheimer's disease affecting younger individuals in China.
Public data reveals that Alzheimer's Disease (AD), commonly known as "senile dementia," is a neurodegenerative disease that progressively develops. Patients typically exhibit symptoms like memory decline, reduced learning capacity, emotional regulation disorders, and loss of motor skills. Clinically, it's characterized by memory impairment, aphasia, apraxia, agnosia, visual-spatial skill damage, executive dysfunction, and changes in personality and behavior. The cause remains unknown. Those diagnosed before age 65 are termed as having early-onset dementia, while those diagnosed after 65 are considered to have late-onset dementia.
The Report's data shows that among those newly diagnosed with Alzheimer's, the highest proportion, 62.1%, are aged between 60 and 79. However, notably, 21.3% of the patients surveyed were under 60, a figure significantly higher than the internationally reported 5-10% for early-onset Alzheimer's. This suggests that the onset of Alzheimer's in China is becoming increasingly younger.
The Report emphasizes that since these patients are still of working age, society needs to pay close attention, strengthen health education across the population, and enhance disease prevention, early screening, and diagnosis.
Since the first Alzheimer's case was reported in 1906, it's been widely believed that the disease primarily affects the elderly. On January 31, 2023, a team led by Jia Jianping, Director of the Neurological Disease Innovation Center at Beijing Xuanwu Hospital and Head of the Neurology Department at Capital Medical University, published a paper in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. The paper detailed a case of a 17-year-old who began experiencing memory abnormalities and was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at 19, making him the youngest known patient to date.
Previously, the youngest diagnosed individual was 21, carrying the PSEN1 gene mutation. Among Alzheimer's patients diagnosed before 30, nearly all cases have pathological gene mutations, especially mutations in the APP, PSEN1, and PSEN2 genes. However, the 19-year-old male in Jia Jianping's team's article showed no gene mutations after whole-genome sequencing. Still, he exhibited typical Alzheimer's characteristics, including memory loss and hippocampal atrophy, challenging the traditional notion that Alzheimer's is exclusive to the elderly.
However, Jia Longfei, one of the paper's authors and Chief Neurologist at Xuanwu Hospital, emphasized in an interview with China Women's News that such cases are extremely rare and shouldn't cause undue concern. He pointed out that the identification of some younger patients is mainly due to technological advancements. Jia Longfei stressed that not all memory declines are indicative of Alzheimer's. For instance, cognitive decline can result from prolonged fatigue, irregular lifestyles, inadequate nutrition, or insufficient rest. He advised young people to maintain regular lifestyles, healthy diets, and physical exercise to prevent memory decline but not to be overly concerned about developing Alzheimer's.
On September 17, the Alzheimer's Disease Prevention and Control Association released the "2023 Basic Data and Prevention and Control Strategy for Alzheimer's in China." The report emphasized the importance of prevention, establishing a comprehensive monitoring system for the incidence and mortality of Alzheimer's and other dementias, and promoting active aging and healthy lifestyles.
In September 2020, the National Health Commission had issued a notice on exploring the provision of specialized services for the prevention and treatment of senile dementia. By 2022, pilot areas were expected to have established a social atmosphere supportive of dementia prevention and treatment, with public awareness of dementia prevention and treatment knowledge reaching 80%. The notice also aimed to establish a comprehensive service network for dementia prevention and treatment, with community-based cognitive function screening rates for the elderly reaching 80%.
In June 2023, the Office of the National Health Commission issued a notice on promoting the prevention and treatment of senile dementia from 2023 to 2025. The notice called for regions with the necessary conditions to carry out cognitive function screening, referral, and intervention services for the elderly, aiming to increase the diagnosis rate of senile dementia, achieve early screening, early detection, and early intervention, and reduce or delay the onset of senile dementia.