More than 35 million worldwide have dementia
Published Monday, September 21, 2009 10:56AM EDT
More than 35 million people around the world will suffer from Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia by next year, and few will get treatment, according to a report released on Monday.
The problem is growing especially fast in low- and middle-income countries, where there are few facilities to diagnose or help dementia patients, says Alzheimer's Disease International, an umbrella group for world Alzheimer's groups.
"An estimated 35.6 million people worldwide will be living with dementia in 2010," says the ADI report, released on World Alzheimer's Day.
"This number is estimated to nearly double every 20 years, to 65.7 million in 2030, and 115.4 million in 2050," the report adds.
Dr. Daisy Acosta called the expected increase in numbers a public health "emergency."
The report updates figures last reported in 2005, when British researchers estimated that more than 24 million people were living with dementia. Using that forecast, scientists had expected about 31 million people would be struggling with dementia by 2010.
But since 2005, more research on Alzheimer's incidence in developing countries has been published, leading ADI to ask those scientists to re-evaluate.
The new figures include 4.4 million people in North American, nearly 7 million people in Western Europe, nearly 7 million in South and Southeast Asia, about 5.5 million in China and East Asia and about 3 million in Latin America.
Much of the global increase is expected to occur in low and middle income countries, where people are now living long enough to face the disease, which generally affects those over the age of 65.
The report urges the World Health Organization to declare dementia a health priority and for national governments to follow suit.
It recommends major new investments in research to uncover what causes dementia and how to treat or cure it.
Debbie Benczkowski, interim CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Canada says the crisis of dementia cannot be ignored.
"Unchecked, dementia will impose enormous burdens on individuals, families, health care infrastructures, and global economy," she said in a news release.
While Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, was identified more than 100 years ago, the disease is still little understood. Its exact causes are not known and it's not clear why some people develop it and others don't.
While age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's, many of the same health problems that lead to heart disease also seem to increase the risk of dementia, including obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Those are problems also on the rise in many developing countries.
Drugs can relieve some of the symptoms for a while, but patients lose their memories, ability to understand the world, and to care for themselves. In the last stages, they no longer remember how to speak and they become bedridden. Patients often eventually die of pneumonia or bed sores.
The reports recommends that governments develop national strategies for how they will provide services to hose affected by Alzheimer's. ADI has produced a Global Alzheimer's Disease Charter that includes an 11-point action plan
ADI released the charter while posting an online petition, calling on governments to adopt the charter.
"Although age-related dementia is not a natural part of aging, which is one of the common misconceptions, it is a disease and a devastating one that affects the whole family" said Marc Wortmann, the executive director of Alzheimer's Disease International.