ON a stage decorated with tinsel(金箔) and fairy lights, Liu Changsheng is singing “The East is Red” into a microphone, wearing a yellow and grey tracksuit(运动套装). For Mr Liu, the Maoist anthem(赞美诗;颂歌) of the 1960s may arouse memories more vivid than those he has of his immediate past. Now in his seventies, he has dementia(痴呆症), an incurable brain disease that is often revealed by a loss of short-term memory(短时记忆). For two years Mr Liu has lived at the Qianhe Nursing Home in northern Beijing in a facility for around 75 dementia patients. They are among the few sufferers of this condition in China who receive specialist care.
Dementia has mostly been a rich-world sickness, because it becomes more common as people live longer. China is fast catching up. Life expectancy(期待寿命) increased from 45 in 1960 to 77 now, and the population is ageing rapidly: one person in six is over 60 now; by 2025 nearly one in four will be. Factors that increase the (age-adjusted) risk of developing dementia are also on the rise, including obesity(肥胖症), smoking, lack of exercise and diabetes(糖尿病).
Already about 9 m people in China have some form of dementia. In absolute terms, that is more than twice as many as in America.(从绝对数看，这个数字是美国的两倍以上。) It is also more than double the number in India, a country with a population similar in size to China’s but a much younger one. Nearly two-thirds of China’s sufferers have the form known as Alzheimer’s(老年痴呆症), cases of which have tripled since 1990. The number of Alzheimer’s patients may increase another fourfold between now and 2050.
China’s government is woefully(不幸地) unprepared for this crisis, with a severe lack of health-care provision for sufferers. So too is the public. Despite recent public-information campaigns, many Chinese regard dementia as a natural part of ageing, not as a disease, and do not know that it is fatal. Others see it as a psychological ailment(疾病) rather than a degeneration of the brain itself. It carries a stigma(污名) of mental illness, making sufferers and their relatives reluctant to seek help. This compounds(使......严重化) the suffering caused by dementia: active management can sometimes slow its progress.
Even at the Qianhe Nursing Home, where Mr Liu lives, some aspects of the care appear crude(初级的;原始的). A shared “activity” space for dementia sufferers has no games or toys to entertain them; relatives are discouraged from visiting more than once a week for fear of “disturbing” their kin (in the West, care homes encourage visits, which can be stimulating and provide a sense of warmth and familiarity). Some dementia patients end up in psychiatric wards, which cannot deal effectively with their specific requirements. There is an acute shortage of medical workers qualified to treat sufferers(合格的医护工作人员严重缺乏来治疗患者。). One reason is that few are attracted to the work. Zhang Xiurong, 50, a care assistant at Qianhe, is paid less than 3,000 yuan ($450) a month, close to the average national migrant wage, to provide all patients’ basic needs 12 hours a day, with only four days off a month. “No Chinese parent wants their one daughter to work in a hospital cleaning bedpans,” says Michael Phillips of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine.
In the West most patients go to a care home for the final brutal stages of the disease, which can last more than a year. In China families carry most of the burden from beginning to end. The government has long underinvested in social care, assuming that adult children will take responsibility(在社会照护方面，政府长期投入不足，认为应该由长大的孩子来负责。). But this is unsustainable. Plunging birth rates since the 1970s, exacerbated(使加重;使恶化) by a one-child-per-couple policy, mean that the number of working-age adults per person over 65 will fall by 2050 from ten to 2.5. Migration into cities (see article) is leaving some elderly people in the countryside without family members to care for them.
Need for new thinking
The government has been slow to recognise the scale of the problem. It funds some dementia research, but the money goes to scientists looking for a cure, rather than to those trying to find ways of alleviating(减轻) the suffering of patients who have no chance of one. (政府资助了一些痴呆症研究，但是拥有经费的科学家们寻找的是治疗方案，而不是致力于找到办法来减轻那些根本没治的病人的痛苦。)“People don’t get Nobel prizes or grants for developing a strategy for community care,” says Dr Phillips.
In any country care can be expensive, both for families and governments. In China the government will find itself having to spend much more as relatives prove unequal to the task. Because family members rarely understand the condition, more than 90% of dementia cases go undetected(没被发现的), according to a study led by Ruoling Chen of King’s College in London. Sufferers will benefit when the government at last realises it has to step in.
short-term memory 短时记忆
life expectancy 期待寿命
1. No compound that would safely achieve the same feat in people has been found yet, but the search has beeninformative and has fanned hope that caloric-restriction (CR) mimetics can indeed be developed eventually.(剑6T3P3)
2. Could such a‘caloric-restriction mimetic’, as we call it, enable people to stay healthy longer, postponing age-related disorders (such as diabetes, arteriosclerosis, heart disease and cancer) until very late in life? (剑6T3P3)