I'm going to have to deal with yet another problem for global health: demographics. Via The Globe and Mail, a long and important article by correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe: Facing a ‘tidal wave’ of dementia, China is running out of time. Excerpt, but you'd better make time to read the whole thing:
The cost of elder care threatens to strain government spending around the world. But in no country are more people entering old age faster than China. In coming years, a vast cohort of Chinese people will enter their twilight years and, barring a medical breakthrough, many millions of them will begin to experience dementia.
“The numbers are truly boggling – and the preparation for dealing with the onslaught that is coming is woefully inadequate,” says Michael Phillips, a psychiatrist at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine.
Dementia in China presents one of Earth’s largest and costliest public-health crises, a slow-moving calamity of human suffering that also portends economic and political danger.
As the fuel for China’s industrial engines – cheap labour, hungry consumers, a burgeoning cohort of middle-class workers – slowly dwindles, so too does its ability to propel the global economy. Meanwhile, the cost to the nation of caring for the most vulnerable among the elderly will be staggering. In little more than a decade, some scholars predict, demographics will help drag China’s economic growth rate below that of the U.S.
The fast-growing ranks of the elderly are already creating difficult and growing social problems.
This spring, Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledged “significant deficiencies” that have left the majority of seniors unhappy with their lives in modern-day China. Loneliness is rampant among generations left behind in countrysides emptied of younger people, leading to an epidemic of old-age suicides. He called for the country “to make great efforts” to improve health care and social benefits for its elderly.
Yet the gaps in China’s existing social-security system are so large that responsibility for parents with dementia often falls exclusively on the shoulders of their children, like Mr. Zhang, and grandchildren, who struggle to maintain traditions of filial duty when they are outnumbered by their elders.