The first time Mr. Chen Shaohua went missing, the family was extremely bewildered, but the second time they realized he had health problems, it was too late.
“We missed the early signs,” explained daughter Chen Yuanyuan. “For the past few years, our mother has complained that our father is lying, but we did not notice because we did not live together for many years.”
Doctors diagnosed Chen, 68, with Alzheimer’s disease, a common form of dementia that causes elderly people to decline in cognitive function and eventually require full-time care.
According to a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the number of Alzheimer’s patients in China is projected to increase to 40 million by 2050. This increase costs the economy $1 trillion in medical costs. economy every year.
The World Health Organization says that although dementia is not “an inevitable consequence of biological aging”, the highest risk of developing the disease is still age. And while this is a growing problem worldwide, experts say China is poorly prepared for the disease.
In the US, there are 6.2 million Alzheimer’s patients and 73,000 beds in specialist treatment centers, while China has twice as many cases but 200 fewer beds.
“There is no bigger healthcare problem in China than Alzheimer’s disease. It is the fastest growing disease on the mainland and we are not equipped to deal with it,” said Wei Shouchao, a theologian. Studies of Guangdong Medical University said.
When Mr. Chen often lost his keys or wallet, the family thought it was just a distraction. The first time he went missing, it took 40 hours for the police to find him, when someone reported a stranger breaking into their home.
“It’s like where my family used to live. My father was very confused. He forgot we were in Beijing. Luckily no one assaulted him,” Yuanyuan said.
Not knowing what to do next, they bought a locator watch, but when he went missing again having removed the watch, they realized he needed medical attention. “We never suspected Alzheimer’s because there was no family history and dad was so young,” she added.
When millions of people migrate to cities, elderly rural parents are “left behind and vulnerable,” said expert He Yao, of the National Clinical Research Center on Geriatric Diseases. The lack of awareness among families means patients do not have access to timely medical care. “The missed opportunity because of this disease early intervention can slow progress,” he said.
Last year, Beijing announced an action plan China Healthy 2030, which implements screening programs in the community to detect Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and raise awareness about the disease. “Rural doctors are not trained for early diagnosis. Even Beijing has only one care home that specializes in handling Alzheimer’s patients,” said expert He Yao.
Mr. Chen is a former military musician who plays ancient Chinese instruments. His health is good, remembering events that happened decades ago. On the surface, the only sign that he wasn’t okay was when he talked about past events as if they were happening now.
Patients with dementia require round-the-clock care and cause physical and emotional harm to caregivers. Mr. Chen’s son, Chen Yunpeng, has a busy job at a logistics company, but because there are no community facilities, he has to take his father to the warehouse, working and looking after.
When he went missing, his family had to ask a group of volunteers to find him. A group of more than a dozen people – including retired civil servants, teachers, housewives – rushed to the site where Chen was last seen and helped police scrutinize public cameras for clues where he went. The group says it has found 300 missing Alzheimer’s patients since 2016.
Su Xiao, head of Beijing’s Zhiyuan Emergency Rescue Service Center, said he received calls from around the country almost every day looking for missing parents. “The most dangerous are elderly people trapped in abandoned construction sites or falling into pits or going out in bad weather,” Su said.
Bao Nhien (Follow AFP)