Our population is aging, and age-related diseases such as dementia are on the rise. According to a WHO report, the worldwide incidence of dementia is expected to double by 2030 to 65.7 million and triple by 2050 to 115.4 million.
The report, co-authored by Alzheimer’s Disease International and entitled “Dementia: A Public Health Priority,” states that, of the 35.6 million people currently living with dementia throughout the world, more than half (58%) reside in low- and middle-income countries. By 2050, WHO predicts this incidence will rise to 70%.
About dementia and Alzheimer's disease
According to Alzheimer's Disease International,
Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia. Dementia affects memory, thinking, behaviour, and emotion. Symptoms may include:
-loss of memory
-difficulty in finding the right words or understanding what people are saying
-difficulty in performing previously routine tasks
-personality and mood changesCosts of dementia
Dementia is a costly disease. Throughout the world, the treatment and care of people with dementia costs about US$604 billion per year. This figure takes into account the health care costs and the loss of income experienced by patients and their caregivers. “The catastrophic cost of care drives millions of households below the poverty line. The cost of caring for people with dementia is likely to rise even faster than its prevalence, and thus it is important that societies are prepared to address the social and economic burden caused by dementia.” says Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, in the recent report.
Dementia should be made a priorityIn 2008, WHO launched the Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP), which included dementia as a priority condition. In 2011, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly recognized neurological and mental health disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, as “an important cause of morbidity, contributing to the global non-communicable disease burden.”
Despite the focus of the WHO and the UN on dementia, only eight countries in the world address this disease with national programs. The recent WHO report recommends improving early diagnosis, increasing public awareness of the disease, reducing stigma, providing better care to patients, and improving support to caregivers.
Lack of diagnosis is a particularly important problem. Even in high-income countries, dementia is often not recognized until it has reached the late stages of the disease. In order to increase the likelihood of early diagnosis, there needs to be more information provided to the public. Lack of public awareness can lead to stigma, which can lead patients and their caregivers to delay seeking a diagnosis.
Caregivers are prone to mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, and they often suffer financially due to cutting back on work. The WHO report recommends providing community-based services to caregivers. The report also states that "the health workforce needs to pay more attention to dementia" and the skills needed to provide care.
For more information about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, see the Alzheimer’s Disease International website.