Alzheimer’s is on the rise, what needs to be done?

In recognition of World Alzheimer’s Month this September, Marc Wortmann from Alzheimer’s Disease International talks more about what’s needed to improve the quality of life of those with dementia and their families.

Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) is the global peak body of Alzheimer associations. It has 83 members and those are the leading national associations in their countries. ADI works to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias worldwide, to strengthen and support its member associations and to make dementia a global health priority.

Dementia is on the rise

Data from the newest Alzheimer’s Disease International World Alzheimer Report 2015 show that the numbers of people with dementia worldwide are increasing rapidly and especially in lower and middle-income countries.

The report contains a systematic review of 273 prevalence studies and 62 incidence studies from around the world. Results were estimations of 46.8 million people living with dementia worldwide in 2015 and 9.9 million new cases every year, or one in every 3.2 seconds.

Although there are some studies from Europe that seem to indicate a delay in onset of dementia compared to a previous generation, the data are not consistent enough to confirm a trend.

If the age-related prevalence stays the same in future decades, we expect 74.7 people with dementia by 2030 and 131.5 million by the year 2050, due to global ageing in all parts of the world. Compared to the last systematic review in 2009, more studies are available now and both the prevalence and incidence numbers have increased.

Although there are some studies from Europe that seem to indicate a delay in onset of dementia compared to a previous generation, the data are not consistent enough to confirm a trend. But as this is hopeful from the perspective that public health measures to reduce risk may be effective, we recommend further studies.

Planning for the future

The cost of the disease, that was estimated US$604 billion in 2010, is now calculated at $818 billion, due to the increased numbers and inflation, comparable with the 18th largest economy in the world and more than the value of the companies like Apple or Google.

The data have alarmed some governments in different parts of the world, but not all. I believe that every country should have a national plan. ADI encourages and supports Alzheimer associations to advocate for those plans.

We think that a lot of measures can be taken to improve the quality of life of people with dementia and their families at relatively low cost, the first two being general awareness raising and creating dementia friendly communities to reduce stigma associated with the disease. Another area is promoting risk reduction measures and these are very much related to other disease areas like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

A series of measures can be recommended to improve the response of health and social services to the challenge of dementia.

A series of measures can be recommended to improve the response of health and social services to the challenge of dementia. This may need investments, but I am convinced it also saves money when it prevents people with dementia to use acute or institutional care.

These measures are improving diagnosis and give it timely, post-diagnostic support including counselling for family carers and access to community care and respite care, ideally within a system where care is coordinated and person centred. Training of the workforce is also crucial.

The need for more research

To really find solutions, ADI together with other non-governmental organizations has called for a significant upscaling of research efforts, proportionate to the societal cost (suggested 1% of the global cost should be spend on publicly funded research) and this public investment should be balanced in research into prevention, treatment, care and cure.

Following the G8 Summit on Dementia, convened by the UK government on December 2013, a series of meetings were held in UK, Canada, Japan, USA and finally at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva in March 2015.

These meetings have created a momentum for further action including a possible resolution at WHO in 2016. That would create further commitment to action in all countries of the world to respond to this growing problem.

I think there is no time to wait, because the growing costs will ruin our health and social systems.

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