As the world’s population continues to live longer, the number of people living with dementia is expected to triple by 2050, predicts the World Health Organization.

The WHO estimates there are 50 million people currently living with dementia. That number is expected to soar to 82 million by 2030, and to 152 million by 2050, the UN group said Thursday.

Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world's adults over the age of 60 is expected to almost double, increasing from 900 million to 2 billion people. While most will have good mental health, many will be at risk of dementia.

The WHO released the estimates as it announced a global monitoring system that will track countries’ progress on providing services for people with dementia. The Global Dementia Observatory will monitor the presence of national policies and plans, risk reduction and care measures.

More than 60 per cent of those currently suffering from dementia live in low- to middle-income countries. Many of those countries are expected to struggle with the medical and long-term care costs of a growing population disabled by dementia.

The annual cost of dementia is approximately US$818 billion, which includes the loss of potential income of those who care for loved ones with dementia.

By 2030, that cost is expected to more than double, to US$2 trillion. Such costs could overwhelm the health and social services of struggling economies and undermine their development.

It’s a problem that all countries need to address, says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO.

"This is an alarm call: we must pay greater attention to this growing challenge and ensure that all people living with dementia -- wherever they live -- get the care that they need,” he said in a statement.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and accounts for 60 to 70 per cent of cases. Although dementia mainly affects older people, it is not a normal part of aging

There is no cure nor any treatment that can significantly alter the course of dementia, although many new treatments are currently under study.

While aging is the single largest risk factor for dementia, research has also shown a link with some lifestyle factors. These risk factors include:

  • physical inactivity
  • obesity
  • unhealthy diets
  • tobacco use
  • harmful use of alcohol
  • diabetes
  • and midlife high blood pressure.

Additional risk factors include depression, low education, social isolation, and cognitive inactivity.