Dementia cases worldwide will triple by 2050, says WHO

 

Cases of dementia - and the heavy social and financial burdens associated with them - will soar in the coming decades as life expectancy and medical care improve in poorer countries, the World Health Organisation says.

Some 35.6 million people were living with dementia in 2010, but that figure is set to double to 65.7 million by 2030, the United Nations health agency said in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2050, it expects dementia cases to triple to 115.4 million.

"The numbers are already large and are increasing rather rapidly," said Dr Shekhar Saxena, the head of WHO's mental health division.

Most dementia patients are cared for by relatives who shoulder the bulk of the current estimated annual cost of £380 billion. And the financial burden is expected to rise even faster than the number of cases, WHO said in its first substantial report on the issue.

"The catastrophic cost drives millions of households below the poverty line," warned the agency's director-general, Margaret Chan.

Dementia, a brain illness that affects memory, behaviour and the ability to perform even common tasks, affects mostly older people. About 70% of cases are believed to be caused by Alzheimer's.

In the last few decades, dementia has become a major public health issue in rich countries. But with populations in poor and middle-income countries projected to grow and age rapidly over the coming decades, WHO appealed for greater public awareness and better support programmes everywhere.

The share of cases in poor and middle-income countries is expected to rise from just under 60% today, to over 70% by 2050.

So far, only eight countries - including Britain, France and Japan - have national programmes to address dementia, WHO said. Several others, such as the United States, have plans at the state level.

While the report shies away from making specific recommendations to policy makers, it does urge them to address the challenges of dementia as soon as possible.

Emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil, for example, have functioning health care systems but do not have the capacity to deal with the massive rise in dementia, said Dr Saxena.

Ensuring doctors and nurses can spot symptoms is a start because lack of proper diagnosis is one of the obstacles to better treatment, he said. Even in rich countries, more than half of dementia cases are overlooked until the disease has reached a late stage, according to the report.

One common misconception is that dementia is inevitable.

"Most people regard dementia as a normal sign of ageing, which is not correct," said Dr Saxena. "Older people have problems of memory and cognition, but dementia is a disease with much more rapid symptoms and progression."

Badly treated or ignored, dementia sufferers can become isolated and vulnerable, especially if they also have poor eyesight or hearing.

And rich countries like the United States should reconsider the drive to place dementia patients in institutions, said Dr Saxena.

"That's a mistake that some developed countries have made that is neither financially viable nor providing the best care," he said.

To Dr Saxena, the increasing rate of dementia is a "paradox" of medical progress.

"The better we do, the more we expect to have problems with dementia and we need to be prepared for that," he said.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Legal Secretary

    £17000 - £17800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to work ...

    Recruitment Genius: Ad Ops Manager - Up to £55K + great benefits

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a digital speci...

    The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

    £40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

    Recruitment Genius: Implementation Consultant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent