Dementia cases set to triple by 2050

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source describe dementia as a general term for “the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interfere with doing everyday activities.”

Dementia is not an expected part of aging, it stems from any among a variety of diseases or injuries that affect the brain. It is progressive and the seventh leading cause of deathTrusted Source worldwide.

The disease affects people differently, but experts broadly classify three stages:

Early stage: This is characterized by being forgetful and losing track of times and places.

Middle stage: Early symptoms become more apparent, communication may become difficult, and changes in behavior may accompany increased forgetfulness and confusion at home.

Later stage: This is characterized by near total dependence and inactivity.

Cases of dementia are on the rise, having increased by 117% from 1990 to 2016. Globally, an estimated 57 million people were living with dementia in 2019.

According to the recent Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, which appears in The LancetTrusted Source, this figure is expected to triple to an estimated 153 million in 2050.

The study is the first of its kind to provide forecasting estimates for 195 countries worldwide.


Dementia and lifestyle factors

The GBD study, which analyzed 635 existing studies, was led by researchers at the University of Washington, in Seattle, and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The scientists aimed to improve current dementia projections by including recognized dementia risk factors, such as smoking, obesity, high blood sugar, and low education.

The study projects a huge increase in the number of dementia cases, from 57.4 million cases in 2019 to 152.8 million cases in 2050.

The researchers found that the prevalence of dementia with age was fairly stable — the increases were largely due to population growth and population aging. However, they predicted that by 2050, almost 7 million cases could have resulted from lifestyle factors.

Lead study author Emma Nichols, a researcher at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, told Medical News Today that these figures could be higher if other risk factors were accounted for.

“While our study focused on the impact of expected trends in modifiable risk factors, other studies have suggested that up to 40% of all dementia cases could be prevented if risk factors were eliminated.”

Speaking with MNT, Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, who was not involved in the study, said: These striking figures lay bare the shocking scale of dementia across the world. Today, there are already 57 million people too many living with this devastating condition. […]The news that almost 7 million new global cases could be down to poor heart health must act as a wake up call for us all.”

“The new [GBD] study is a stark reminder of the growing global challenge of dementia” said Prof. Bart De Strooper, the director of the UK Dementia Research Institute, at University College London, who was not part of the study.

In an interview with MNT, he warned that the risk factors studied are only part of the bigger picture, explaining that “The genetic makeup of an individual is at least as great a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease as lifestyle.”

“Whilst stacking the odds in your favor with lifestyle choices is advisable,” he continued, “sadly, we know millions of individuals will still go on to develop dementia, and that’s why we urgently need more discovery research that will bolster the race to cures.”


Dementia cases by country

Until now, estimates of dementia cases in individual countries had not been published. The GBD study highlights a large difference between countries in the projected prevalence of dementia between 2019 and 2050.

While the team projected an increase in dementia rates in every country, there were large disparities.

They predicted that cases in the United Kingdom would rise from 907,000 to nearly 1.6 million by 2050 and saw similar modest increases in the higher-income Asia Pacific region, with a predicted rise from 4.8 million to 7.4 million by 2050.

In contrast, estimates for eastern sub-Saharan Africa increased 357%, from 660,000 to more than 3 million by 2050. North Africa and the Middle East also showed a huge increase of 367%, with a predicted case number of 14 million by 2050.

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