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Healthcare experts have suggested people receive regular screenings for Alzheimer"s disease starting at age 50, when patients often begin to suffer cognitive decline, to grasp the optimal opportunity for intervention and treatment.
They said most patients with Alzheimer"s disease do not manifest obvious symptoms until around 70 but in most cases brain changes caused by the disease begin two decades before.
"It"s too late for a doctor to determine that a case is Alzheimer"s disease rather than normal aging at 70 and it"ll become a huge burden for the individual, the family and the social medical system," said Phyllis Ferrell, vice-president of the global Alzheimer"s disease team for US pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co, during a professional gathering, Clinical Trials on Alzheimer"s Disease, which was held in Shanghai earlier this month.
Xiao Shifu, director of the Alzheimer"s diagnosis and treatment center at Shanghai Jiao Tong University"s School of Medicine, said most people have already entered a moderate or severe stage of Alzheimer"s disease by the time they are diagnosed, citing statistics from research published by the Chinese Journal of Geriatrics in 2010.
"So we suggest such screenings start from age 50, with a frequency of at least every three years and a once-a-year cognitive assessment from 65 to observe the curve of memory and other cognitive functions," Xiao said, adding that the incidence of Alzheimer"s disease is around 5 percent for Chinese aged 65 and almost half of those 90 and above.
If the examination finds that someone"s memory and cognitive functions are obviously below the average level for their age, a detailed medical check is advised, Xiao said.
"Medical treatment for alleviating certain symptoms, such as hallucinations, is suggested if necessary," he said.
If a patient shows a tendency to have problems in day-today life, early behavioral and lifestyle interventions, including competitive exercise, such as playing mahjong, and adequate physical activity may help, according to experts.
"Actually, the rate of suffering from the disease is 35 percent lower for those who stay away from dangerous factors, such as a lack of exercise, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, high blood pressure and high blood glucose," Xiao said.
Apart from screenings at hospitals and mental health centers, middle-aged people and seniors can perform a self-check by asking themselves if they often go in the wrong direction in the streets or become forgetful, Xiao said.
Ferrell said research shows that if people are diagnosed early, overall healthcare costs will be reduced.
"As the disease progresses, there are inevitable challenges that the family faces where individuals are placed in dangerous situations - errors in medication or potential falls that may result in hospitalization," Ferrell said.
"If we can identify the person who is at risk for the expensive situation and put the care around the entire family, it benefits the whole healthcare system as well as the emotions of caregivers."