Scientists have warned the global prevalence of dementia is expected to triple by 2050, with up to 152 million projected to have the disease worldwide. While the illness mostly affects elderly people, there are more than 40,000 younger people in the UK with dementia. However, these figures are expected to grow exponentially as risk factors for dementia, such as obesity and smoking, become more prevalent.
Emma Nichols, from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and her team set out to forecast global dementia prevalence using large amounts of data.
The predictions were based on estimates for the current number of dementia cases globally, and took into account trends in risk factors for the condition.
The findings, which the team presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Colorado on Tuesday, showed that cases were expected to rise at different levels in different parts of the world.
The researchers found that dementia would increase from an estimated 57.4 million cases in 2019 to around 152.8 million cases in 2050, globally.
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The highest increases were observed in eastern sub-Saharan Africa, North African and the Middle East, where cases are projected to rise by 375 percent.
Cases are projected to double in North America and rise by 75 percent in Western Europe, mainly because these regions have lower population numbers and growth.
The researchers found an increase of 6.8 million dementia cases globally between 2019 and 2050 due specifically to changes in smoking and obesity.
Nichols’ team also found that expected changes in education levels will lead to a decline in dementia prevalence of 6.2 million people. Taken together, these factors could potentially balance each other out.
Maria C. Carillo, Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer, explained: “Improvements in lifestyle in adults in developed countries and other places – including increasing access to education and greater attention to health issues – have reduced incidences in recent years, but total numbers with dementia are still going up because of the ageing of the population.
“In addition, obesity, diabetes and sedentary lifestyles in younger people are rising quickly, and these are risk factors for dementia.”
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, and may include memory loss, difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language.
According to the National Office for statistics, the condition is the second biggest killer in the UK after heart disease.
Although there are some common symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss, specific symptoms often depend on the part of the brain affected and the type of disease causing the condition.
Alzheimer’s disease, one of the most common causes of dementia, occurs when an abnormal protein surrounds brain cells, damaging their internal structure.
Problems with day-to-day memory are often the first thing to be noticed, but other symptoms may include difficulties finding the right words, making decisions, or perceiving things in three-dimensions.
There is no treatment currently available to cure the condition or to alter its progression course. However, numerous treatments are being investigated.
How to prevent dementia
Although some dementia risk factors, such as age and genes, are impossible to change, making simple lifestyle changes could decrease the risk of the condition. According to the NHS, these includes:
Exercise: Older adults who do not exercise are more likely to have problems with memory or thinking
Alcohol: Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol increases the risk of stroke, heart disease and some cancers, as well as damaging the nervous system, including the brain. The NHS recommends limiting consumption to 14 units of alcohol a week.
Smoking: Smoking causes arteries to become narrower, which can raise blood pressure and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Health experts recommend avoiding cigarette smoke.