Alzheimer’s keeps pace with aging population

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Alzheimer’s keeps pace with aging population

Dementia in Korea is on the rise and Alzheimer’s sufferers live slightly longer than those with the condition in other developed countries, according to a new study.

A person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to live an average of 12 and a half years after symptoms first appear and nine years and three months after diagnosis, a research team from Samsung Medical Center in southern Seoul found.

The team, made up of preventive medicine professor Jung Hae-gwan and neurology professor Na Deok-ryul, surveyed 724 patients with Alzheimer’s nationwide from 1995 to 2005.

The study was the first of its kind in Korea to present a comprehensive report on Alzheimer’s. Their research was published in the latest issue of the Swiss-based journal Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders.

The study found that the shortest length of survival after the first symptoms show up is 11 years and seven months and the longest 13 years and four months.

“If we look at other developed countries, the average life expectancy of those with Alzheimer’s disease stands at 10 years,” said Dr. Na.

“The patients we surveyed lived a bit longer because they all received treatment from the hospital,” he said.

The researchers noted that diabetes can mostly increase the risk of death for the Alzheimer’s patients.

Forty-nine out of 80, or 70 percent, of people with diabetes passed away during the survey years.

The team also said that men have a higher risk of death from the disease than women, as 122 out of 212, or 59.3 percent, of men died compared to 253 out of 512, or 47.8 percent of women.

Alzheimer’s disease is known to be incurable, but the research team stressed that early detection can help slow the memory-loss process and brain deterioration.

“The earlier people with Alzheimer’s get diagnosed and treated, the better family members can come to terms with the disease. And it can also reduce the cost of treatment,” said Na.

“If one suffers memory defects or speech impediment, the person should see a doctor and examine brain activity through a brain scan as well as get a blood test,” he said.

In Korea’s aging society, the number of people with dementia has steadily increased and is expected to keep rising. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the number of people diagnosed with dementia aged over 65 jumped from 421,000 in 2008 to 534,000, as the population of people in this age group continues to grow.

The health agency estimated that the number will increase to 794,000 by 2020 and top one million in 2025.

In response to the growing figure, the ministry plans to expand the number of those who receive long-term care insurance coverage to 200,000 by 2015.

By Jang Joo-young [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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