Is Dementia Becoming a Global Health Concern?
Updated: Aug 30
By Sanjana Anand, Wentzville Liberty High School, O'Fallon, MO
Dementia, a collective term used to characterize a group of conditions such as memory loss and the deterioration of problem-solving abilities, is caused by the impairment of brain functions, and is becoming increasingly prevalent around the world. The World Health Alzheimer’s Report estimates that the number of dementia cases “will increase with an ageing population and will reach 66 million by the year 2030 and 115 million by 2050” (Wortmann, 2012). Currently, there are 35.6 million people that have dementia, and it is stressful for both the individual affected and those who care for them. It also has an enormous economic and psychological impact on these people, and in many countries, there are not sufficient efforts taken to spread awareness about dementia (WHO). Dementia has devastating consequences and is becoming a serious challenge and threat to global health.
Dementia is sometimes confused as a natural sign of ageing, but it is anything but that. To clarify, dementia’s effects are more amplified and it is important to note that forgetting what happened at an event a year ago is not the same as forgetting daily events or the names of immediate family members. Symptoms of this chronic brain condition include forgetfulness, impairment in communication and thinking, and loss of behavioral abilities that interfere in a person’s daily activities and life (NIA, 2017). There are many different kinds of dementia, and these include Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease Dementia, Huntington’s Disease Dementia, Vascular Dementia, Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus and many more (NIA, 2017). Dementia is caused by damage to the nerve cells which impact their connection to the brain, and each type of dementia has varying symptoms and causes (NIA,2017). For example, Alzheimer’s is caused when an amyloid beta protein surrounds brain cells and tau tangles damage their internal structure which ultimately leads to the death of these vital cells, giving rise to issues in areas of the brain that play a role in decision making (Murphy, 2010).
The long and short term effects of dementia are clearly worrisome as demonstrated by several studies. The World Alzheimer’s Report states that in 2010, “the economic cost of dementia was $604 billion, the equivalent of 1% of the global gross domestic product” (Marc Wortmann, 2012). Another study, found that “dementia-related stigma is due to fear and lack of awareness about the disease... and causes negative effects such as decreased quality of life, low self-esteem and increased negative impact on supporting someone with dementia” (Dementia Stigma Reduction…). Additionally, it is important to note that Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in the United States and that the annual cost of direct care exceeds $200 billion dollars (2016, Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures).
Cultural and socioeconomic differences among different nations account for the variation of dementia cases around the world (Rizzi et al.,2014). “The vast majority of people who have dementia live in developed countries and the Delphi Consensus Study found that the prevalence of dementia was higher in the Americas and lower in less developed countries” (Rizzi et al., 2014). The increase in the number of dementia cases over the years in people over the age of sixty and in various regions around the world is quite surprising. In 2001, there were 3.4 million cases of dementia in people in North America, and this is projected to rise to 9.2 million by 2040. However in India and South Asia, there were 1.8 million cases of the same age group in 2001, and a projected increase to 7.5 million dementia cases in 2040. As of 2020, China and the developing West Pacific have the highest number of cases at 11.7 million, and by 2040, it is estimated to rise to 26.1 million. Globally, the number of dementia cases for people over 60 years of age is expected to rise to 81.1 million by 2040, and is a huge jump from the 24.3 million cases reported in 2001 (Ferri et al., 2005).
Addressing dementia needs to be made a global priority. “There is one new case of dementia diagnosed every 4 seconds, or 7.7 million cases per year which means that more than 600 million people in the world will live with this in the next 40 years” (Wortmann, 2012). In 2012, the World Health Organization and Alzheimer’s Disease International worked on a report called Dementia: A Public Health Priority, which calls for “every country to develop a national Alzheimer’s and dementia plan, and gives a framework for action” (WHO, 2012). The stages of this plan include “research and evaluation, advocacy and awareness raising, developing and implementing dementia policies, and strengthening of the healthcare system” (WHO, 2012). With more research conducted, nations would be able to make progress in finding more and new effective treatments that could ultimately save lives (Wortmann, 2012). “Currently 11 countries around the world have developed or are currently developing National Dementia Plans” that “have been useful at providing insights into challenges encountered at various stages” (Pot, A.M et al, 2013). By improving “strategies and screenings for pre-symptomatic dementia and training the social and health care work-force” along with breaking the stigma associated with dementia through advocacy and awareness, countries would be able to mitigate the impact of dementia and provide a sense of assurance and relief to millions of people around the world (Chan).
Alzheimer’s Association, “What is Dementia?” https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia
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