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Hong Kong health care and hospitals

International researchers seek Hong Kong participants for major study to help fight dementia

A worldwide call is out for 50,000 people to take part in a project that hopes to discover causes, cures and treatment for brain diseases

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 8:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 8:00am

Hundreds of Hongkongers were invited on Monday to take part in an ambitious 10-year international study that aims to find breakthroughs in treating and preventing dementia, brain-wasting diseases that affect the elderly the most.

The groundbreaking study aims to recruit 500 participants, who are 50 and older and can speak English, in Hong Kong to be a part of a larger pool of 50,000 people worldwide. The study is being conducted in the city by Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and University of Exeter in UK.

Once a year, participants will be required to complete online questionnaires about their health and lifestyle, along with taking part in a brain-training game and a cognitive function tests. Altogether the activities take about an hour to complete.

Researchers hope the decade-long study, called PROTECT, will reveal how people can maintain a healthy brain later in life and reduce risk of dementia.

“I’d encourage people to sign up, both for their own benefit, and to make a real difference to global research on this crucial topic,” said professor Linda Lam Chiu-wa, director of the Dementia Research Unit at CUHK.

Lam said researchers would make medical referral if they found participants develop symptoms of dementia throughout the years.

Dementia is a broad term for diseases that target the brain. The most common form is Alzheimer’s disease, which in its later stages can cause individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. There is no cure but treatments for symptoms are available.

Most people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older – a demographic that was expected to reach 2.37 million in Hong Kong over the next two decades.

Clive Ballard, pro vice-chancellor at the University of Exeter Medical School, said he was delighted to make Hong Kong the first phase of the study’s international expansion. In the UK, more than 25,000 people have signed up.

“We know that people are living longer worldwide, and we need large-scale research to be able to support them to stay mentally healthy,” said Ballard. “This trial is a simple option for those involved to find out what really works for them, and for researchers to be able to conduct large-scale trials that will have a real impact on maintaining brain health worldwide.”

Participants will be asked about their health and lifestyle, such as their diet, exercise, vitamins and food supplements, as well as conducting a genetic test via postal swabs.

Researchers said the large numbers of people involved in the project would enable them to discover the causes of dementia, reducing risk, identifying new treatments and improving care and quality of life.

The Department of Health estimated there are more than 70,000 sufferers in the city. About 10 per cent of the 65 years old and 30 per cent of those 85 years old or above have dementia.

Alzheimer’s Disease International estimated the number of people living with dementia in worldwide 2013 is 44.35 million, reaching 75.62 million in 2030.

To find out more or to sign up to PROTECT go to hk.protect-study.org.