Alzheimer's Disease International warns of dementia epidemic

Experts warn 135 million will suffer from illness by 2050, with poor countries affected most

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 December, 2013, 4:27pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 December, 2013, 5:43am

Many governments are woefully unprepared for an epidemic of dementia currently affecting 44 million people worldwide and set to more than treble to 135 million people by 2050, health experts and campaigners said yesterday.

Fresh estimates from the advocacy group Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI) showed a 17 per cent increase in the number of people with the incurable mind-robbing condition compared with 2010, and warned that by 2050 more than 70 per cent of dementia sufferers will be living in poorer countries.

"It's a global epidemic and it is only getting worse," said Marc Wortmann, the executive director of ADI.

"If we look into the future the numbers of elderly people will rise dramatically.

"It's vital that the World Health Organisation makes dementia a priority, so the world is ready to face this condition."

Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, is a fatal brain disease that has no cure and few effective treatments.

Like other forms of the disorder, it affects patients' memory, thinking and behaviour and is an increasingly overwhelming burden on societies and economies. While there are a few drugs that can ease some symptoms in some people, there is no cure for the condition.

Even now, the global annual cost of dementia care is more than US$600 billon, or around 1 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP), and that will only increase, the ADI says.

In a policy report published along with the new data, Martin Prince, a professor at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry, said "most governments are woefully unprepared for the dementia epidemic".

His report said that only 13 countries have national dementia plans.

"This is a global problem that is increasingly impacting on developing countries with limited resources and little time to develop comprehensive systems of social protection, health and social care," Prince said.

Leaders from the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised countries are due to meet in London next week for a special summit on dementia.

Experts on neurological conditions, research campaigners and charities say that they are determined the summit should not be just a talking shop, but should see leaders committing to dramatically increased funds for research and drug development in dementia.

"Lack of funding means dementia research is falling behind other conditions," said Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society.

"The G8 is our once-in-a-generation chance to conquer this condition."