As the world continues to get older, the prevalence of diseases that the elderly tend to suffer from will also increase. Thus, it should really be no surprise that the latest report by Alzheimer’s Disease International entitled World Alzheimer Report 2015 has projected a steady increase in the number of suffers of dementia worldwide in the coming decades. The report notes that there are currently 900 million people in the world aged 60 years and over. This number will greatly increase by 2050 due to rising life expectancy and there will be a concomitant rise both in the number of people living with dementia and in the cost of caring for such people.

It is estimated that there are slightly fewer than 47 million people living with dementia worldwide in 2015. By 2030 this number will increase to 74.7 million and by 2050 it is expected that there will be 131.5 million people living with the disease.  The prevalence of dementia and those afflicted with the disease are not spread evenly throughout the world. Only 4.6% of those aged over 60 have dementia in Central Europe, while 8.7% of the same age cohort have the disease in North Africa and the Middle East. Partly due to population growth, the proportion of the world’s dementia sufferers living in countries classified by the World Bank as “low or middle income” is set to rise from 58% today to 68% in 2050. Aside from sub-Saharan population growth, this rising proportion of dementia sufferers in lower income countries may also be due to wealthier countries managing to halt the spread of the disease through improvements to their populations’ health and more health spending. The Lancet notes that in some Western European countries (Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK and Spain) “the prevalence of dementia is plateauing”. Researchers emphasise that “having good physical and cognitive health in the early to middle stages of life is likely to have contributed to this stabilisation”.  The morale seems to be to eat healthily and to “exercise” your brain and your body when younger in life to stave off dementia.

According to the Report the cost of dementia (direct medical costs, direct social care costs and informal and unpaid care) has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2010 the global cost was USD606 billion, but in 2015 this had risen 35.4% to USD818 billion. This latter amount represents 1.09% of global GDP.  In conclusion, the Report recommends that “dementia risk reduction” should be a priority for the WHO and that research into dementia should be scaled up and that epidemiological research needs to be carried out into the disease in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, South Latin America, and Eastern and Southern sub-Saharan Africa.

The Report is interesting in highlighting one of the growing problems that our ageing world is going to face – increased numbers of sufferers of certain diseases prevalent amongst the elderly and an increased cost in caring for those sufferers. How countries deal with these issues will be one of the tests of how well we deal with demographic change in the next few decades.

As a postscript tangentially related to this story, Shannon and I watched the movie Still Alice on DVD on Friday night. It was a very good movie chronicling the deterioration of an early-onset Alzheimer’s sufferer which highlighted the importance of a loving family and of living and enjoying your life that you have. 

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...