Most people are familiar with the idea of senior citizens suffering from Alzheimer's Disease but few are aware that the disease can be inherited as well.
Fuh Jong-ling (傅中玲), a doctor with the Neurological Department at the Veterans General Hospital, said at the launch of the Taiwan Dementia Society yesterday in Taipei yesterday that there are genetically-inherited Alzheimer's cases though they are rare, accounting for only 0.5 to 2 percent of all cases.
There are an estimated 60,000 to 110,000 dementia patients in Taiwan, she added.
A recent genetic screening of high-risk families in Taiwan conducted by the hospital had found a family where 19 people carry a gene strongly associated with Alzheimer's disease. Three of the 19 have already developed Alzheimer's, including a woman who was just 36 years old when diagnosed.
According to Fuh, it is very likely that those testing positive for the gene will develop Alzheimer's before the age of 50, much earlier than most sufferers of the disease.
"Some family members refused to be tested because it's a disease that currently has no cure," said Fuh. "But others wanted to know so that they can plan their life around it."
Fuh stresses the role of an early diagnosis to improve the patient's quality of life and possibly to reverse the condition in some patients where the cause of the dementia is due to stroke or other secondary factors.
A professor of Neurology at Kaohsiung Medical University, Liu Ching-kuan (
"We need to improve standards for diagnosis," Liu said. "Much could be done for vascular dementia patients if they are caught in the mild cognitive impairment stage."
As for activities that lower the likelihood of Alzheimer's developing, Liu said that Mahjong is not the only game in town.
"People focus on Mahjong for some reason," said Liu, "but anything that works the brain helps to some degree. And we've found activities that involves interpersonal interaction as well as cognitive tasks are very effective."
Speaking of the newly-formed Taiwan Dementia Society, Liu said: "This group will help facilitate much-needed cooperation and information exchange with dementia researchers from other countries and promote more clinical research at home."