The number of people living with dementia is set to triple over the next four decades, according to a new report from Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI).
The figures, which were released ahead of the G8 dementia summit in London next week, suggest that insufficient research funding and rising life expectancies will drive the total number of patients from 44 million to 135 million by 2050 — a surge that will weigh heavy on health care systems under governments “woefully unprepared for the dementia epidemic.” According to Marc Wortmann, executive director at ADI, these epidemiological developments can already be observed. "It's a global epidemic and it is only getting worse,” he said, speaking to BBC News. “If we look into the future the numbers of elderly people will rise dramatically."
One of the largest factors behind the projected surge is the emergence of advanced, comprehensive health care in developing countries. Since the onset of dementia-type disorders like Alzheimer’s is typically associated with old age, improved longevity naturally inflates a nation’s at-risk demographic. It is estimated that 71 percent of dementia cases will be limited to poor and middle-income countries by 2050.
Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK, said the upcoming summit in London will likely represent a pivotal moment for Alzheimer’s research and awareness. "Dementia is fast becoming the biggest health and social care challenge of this generation. We must tackle dementia now, for those currently living with the condition across the world and for those millions who will develop dementia in the future,” he told reporters. "The G8 is our once-in-a-generation chance to conquer this condition and we must see meaningful action after the talking is over."
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by gradual neurodegeneration — a process whereby nerve connections in the brain are gradually eroded. Neurodegenerative disorders typically result in a range of debilitating cognitive impairments, including confusion, disorientation, loss of motor skills, and memory loss. In turn, these symptoms generally bring with them a number of lifestyle changes as well as an increased risk of injuries.
That said, there is no reason to panic yet. According to Rebecca Wood, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, even small scientific advances can have a dramatic impact on the projected figures. “Increasing numbers of people affected by dementia worldwide is cause for alarm, but research can stem the tide,” she told reporters. “An intervention to delay the onset of Alzheimer's by five years could halve the number of people who die with the disease, having a transformative impact on millions of people's lives.”