Smoking, obesity, high blood sugar and low education: If factors that are associated with a higher risk of dementia are not addressed more intensively, the number of cases threatens to rise immensely.
Seattle / Bordeaux – The number of dementia cases worldwide could almost triple in the next three decades. At least that is what a health study that was published in the journal “The Lancet Public Health” predicts.
According to her, around 153 million people could live with dementia in 2050 – compared to 57 million in 2019. This is mainly due to the growth and aging of the population. The scientists expect a particularly high increase in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, among others, while Japan will record the lowest growth rates. For Germany, the researchers forecast an increase of 65 percent, which would be below the Western European average.
Last year the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the number of people with dementia would increase rapidly over the next ten years. One of the main reasons for this is the increasing life expectancy: with age, the risk of noncommunicable diseases and thus also of dementia increases. This generic term describes the symptoms of a whole series of mostly progressive diseases that affect the performance of the brain – Alzheimer’s dementia is one of the most common and well-known. According to the WHO, dementia is currently the seventh leading cause of death worldwide and a leading cause of disability and the need for care in the elderly. Global costs are estimated at more than $ 1 trillion in 2019.
The predictions that a team of international scientists have modeled for the regularly published “Global Burden of Disease” study appear all the more alarming. Specifically, the researchers made estimates of the prevalence of dementia for 195 countries and territories in the period from 2019 to 2050, including various dementia risk factors. In particular, population growth and aging resulted in an estimated 153 million people worldwide living with dementia by 2050, almost tripling the number of cases compared to 2019.
The study predicts the greatest increase in prevalence for the eastern sub-Saharan region, where the number of people with dementia aged 40 and over will rise by over 350 percent. Case numbers are forecast to rise by almost 370 percent for North Africa and the Middle East, with particularly high rates of increase expected in Qatar (1926 percent) and the United Arab Emirates (1795 percent). The smallest increase is forecast for the high-income Asia-Pacific region, where the number of cases is expected to rise by 53 percent to 7.4 million in 2050 – with a particularly small increase in Japan (27 percent).
For Western Europe, the study authors expect the number of cases to rise by 74 percent, from almost 8 million in 2019 to just under 14 million in 2050. Lower rates of increase are here for Greece (45 percent), Italy (56 percent), Finland (58 percent) and Sweden (62 Percent), Germany is also at 65 percent (from just under 1.7 million sufferers in 2019 to just under 2.8 million in 2050), still below the average growth forecast for Western Europe. This will be above average in Cyprus (175 percent), Andorra (172 percent) and Ireland (164 percent), among others.
Looking at the effects of four dementia risk factors – smoking, obesity, high blood sugar, and low education – the study authors predict that improved access to education could result in six million fewer cases of dementia. On the other hand, there are almost seven million more cases associated with the predicted rates for obesity, high blood sugar and smoking.
Preventive measures that minimize the influence of these risk factors are all the more important, emphasizes epidemiologist and lead author Emma Nichols from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. “For most countries, this means expanding locally adapted, low-cost programs that promote healthier eating, more exercise, quitting smoking and better access to education.”
In fact, the Lancet Commission’s report published last year suggested that up to 40 percent of dementia cases could be prevented or delayed if twelve known risk factors were eliminated. In addition to those considered in the current study, these included high blood pressure, hearing loss, depression, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, social isolation, excessive alcohol consumption, head injuries and air pollution.
The scientists themselves admit, however, that their analysis is hampered by a lack of high-quality data from some parts of the world and only four dementia risk factors have been taken into account. In addition, the study examines the overall prevalence of dementia without distinguishing between different clinical subtypes – a criticism that Michaël Schwarzinger and Carole Dufouil from the Bordeaux University Hospital take up in an independent comment: The underlying mechanisms that cause dementia are simplified here.
“From a public health perspective, the results of the study are generally disappointing because they suggest that the rise in dementia is unstoppable,” write the two medical professionals. In the “apocalyptic prognoses” advisable changes in lifestyle are not factored in. It is all the more important to provide information about the means that could delay or avoid the “gloomy forecasts”. dpa