The number of people living with dementia in England and Wales will rise to 1.2 million by 2040 as life expectancy increases, new research suggests.
Around 767,000 people with dementia, a degenerative brain condition that mostly affects those over 65, currently live in the two countries, estimated scientists from University College London and the University of Liverpool.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), noted that fewer people appear to be newly diagnosed with the disease each year. This is mainly due to “improvements in healthcare and adopting healthier lifestyles”, said lead author Sara Ahmadi-Abhari.
But as people live longer lives and survival rates for other life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease improve, scientists predict many more patients overall will require care for dementia – now the leading cause of death in England and Wales.
Dementia costs the economy an estimated £23bn a year and campaigners are calling for the Government to pay “urgent attention” to Britain’s social care system to avert a crisis.
The Alzheimer’s Society, which uses figures for the whole of the UK, has predicted that dementia cases will soar from around 850,000 to two million by 2051.
“These latest estimates are yet another wake-up call that the current social care system – already on its knees from decades of underfunding – needs urgent attention from the Government if it’s to cope with the inevitable massive increase in demand,” said Dr James Pickett, the organisation’s head of research.
“The study however does show a nugget of good news. In line with other recent studies, it shows that the proportion of people developing dementia at any given age has decreased slightly,” he said.
“This might be due to improved cardiovascular health, or more education and physical activity, and shows that dementia doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of ageing.”
The number of new dementia cases is falling by 2.7 per cent each year, the study found.
However, if this trend does not continue as predicted, the number of people living with dementia in England and Wales could soar to nearly two million in the next 25 years, said Dr Ahmadi-Abhari.
“The risk of developing dementia at any given age is going down over time, shifting dementia to later years in life,” she said.
“Our estimate of 1.2 million people with dementia by 2040 is based on the assumption that the decline in risk of developing dementia continues to the future.
“If public health efforts fail and the risk of developing dementia does not continue to decline, the growth in numbers of people living with dementia will be much larger, reaching 1.9 million by 2040.”
In 2015, dementia claimed more than 61,000 lives and accounted for 11.6 per cent of recorded deaths, narrowly overtaking ischaemic heart disease, which was behind 11.5 per cent of deaths.
The new study used data from 18,000 men and women from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, tracking the health of those aged 50 and over.
From 2002 to 2013, people were selected at random at six different points. They were tested for memory, verbal fluency and numeracy function, and basic activities of daily living such as getting in or out of bed, dressing and eating.
Dementia was then identified by these assessments, together with interviews with carers, or through official NHS diagnosis.
Britain’s ageing population – the number of older people aged 85 and over has increased by a third over the last decade – combined with a lack of forward planning and funding cuts to local authorities means the social care system is currently far from perfect, charities have warned.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, told The Independent that “there’s not enough social care to go round, there aren’t enough providers, lots of people don’t want to work in it because it doesn’t pay very well.
“It is true there are more older people creating more demand, but successive governments have taken money out of social care; billions and billions have come out of it over the years.”
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