Cases of dementia — a catch-all term describing the loss of memory, mental agility and understanding owing to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, has been on the rise around the world. The number of cases is expected to double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050. It affects people in all countries; with the number of people living with dementia around the world is now estimated at 44 million, or up 22% from three years ago according to a report released by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), a federation of Alzheimer’s associations around the world.
The increase on the ADI’s previous finding is due at least in part to improved reporting of dementia prevalence in China and sub-Saharan Africa. And as people live longer, the number of cases will rise to 76 million by 2030 and to 136 million by 2050, the ADI report says. Lack of diagnosis is a major problem. Even in high-income countries, only one fifth to one half of cases of dementia are routinely recognized. When a diagnosis is made, it often comes at a relatively late stage of the disease.
We need to increase our capacity to detect dementia early and to provide the necessary health and social care. Much can be done to decrease the burden of dementia but many are unaware of programs that are available to help those caring for someone with dementia.
In every region of the world, most caregiving is provided by informal caregivers – spouses, adult children, other family members and friends. Many people who care for a person with dementia are themselves particularly prone to mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, and are often in poor physical health themselves. Many caregivers also suffer economically as they may be forced to stop working, cut back on work, or take a less demanding job to care for a family member with dementia.
Community-based services can provide valuable support to families caring for people with dementia in both high- and low-income countries – delaying the need for people to enter into high-cost residential care. At the same time, health care workforce training needs to pay closer attention to dementia, and the skills required to provide both clinical and long-term care.
Dementia affects people of all walks of life and is not just a disease of the well-off: though cases are concentrated in the richest and most demographically aged countries. Sixty-three percent of people with dementia live in low- and middle-income countries where there is limited access to social services and support.
Awareness of dementia and the programs available needs to increase so the general publics’ understanding rises.