Dementia cases to triple by 2050

Lianzi Fields
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Dementia patient and carer
Image: Thinkstock

Cases of dementia are projected to triple by 2050, as life expectancy increases and medical care continues to improve in poorer countries, says the World Health Organization.

The U.N. health agency has released its first substantial report on the number of people living with dementia, which is expected to double from 35.6 million in 2010 to 65.7 million by 2030, and triple to 115.4 million cases by 2050.

Related: Alzheimer's: what is dementia?

Dementia is a term for a group of illnesses that cause progressive mental decline affecting a person's memory function, behaviour, social skills, and ability to physically function on a daily basis. Alzheimer's disease accounts for up to 70 per cent of all cases.

Already a major public health problem in developed countries, dementia cases are set to rise significantly in poor and middle-income countries; from under 60 per cent in 2012 to over 70 per cent by 2050.

The financial burden of the illness, which is primarily carried by the carers of dementia patients, is currently estimated to be $604 billion annually. It is estimated that if dementia were a country, it would be the world's 18th largest economy.

"The catastrophic cost drives millions of households below the poverty line," said the director-general of WHO, Margaret Chan.

The agency also expects that the financial burdens of dementia will outstrip the number of cases in coming years, and is appealing for more support programs and greater awareness of the illness.

Related: Does an active brain keep dementia away?

Only eight countries currently have national programs in place that address dementia, including Britain, France and Japan. Other countries, such as the United States have plans at the state level.

Alzheimer's Australia , the national bodyfor dementia sufferers, their families and carers, says that Australia was one of the first countries to declare dementia as a health priority, but that funding has slowed, even though cases are on the rise.

"Last year's budget changes suggested that dementia is no longer a health priority in Australia. That is very disappointing, and we want and expect that to be changed," said John Watkins, CEO of Alzheimer's Australia NSW.

"Hopefully a medical breakthrough will occur in the near future which will enable us to prevent or slow the development of dementia," said Watkins, "but as yet, we don't have that breakthrough, and therefore need a lot more money spent on research."

"Most of the obstacles to the better treatment of dementia such as lack of trained staff relate back to a lack of funding."

Currently, almost 280,000 Australians live with dementia, which is listed as the single greatest cause of disability in people over 65 and the third leading cause of death in this country.

Watch: Call to stem dementia 'epidemic'

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