The number of people globally with dementia is set to rise from its current 35.6 million estimate, to at least 115 million by the middle of the century, says the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO adds that by 2030, there will be at least 65 million people with dementia. 58% of people with dementia today are from low-to-middle-income nations. By 2050, these countries will have over 70% of all individuals with dementia.

$604 billion are spent each year worldwide on treating and caring for individuals with dementia. This toll includes the provision of health and social care, as well as loss of income of the dementia patients and their caregivers. Many caregivers have to give up their jobs to look after a person with dementia.

According to the report – “Dementia: a public health priority”, published by WHO and Alzheimer’s Disease International – there are currently only 8 countries that have an active national program to tackle dementia. The authors say that programs should concentrate on better early diagnosis, improving public awareness about dementia, reducing stigma, and providing better support for those who care for dementia patients.

A major problem with dementia today is lack of diagnosis. Even in rich nations, a mere 1 in 5 of all dementia cases are routinely recognized. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, diagnoses are made when the disease is already well advanced.

Dr Oleg Chestnov, Assistant Director-General, Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health at WHO, said:

“We need to increase our capacity to detect dementia early and to provide the necessary health and social care. Much can be done to decrease the burden of dementia. Health-care workers are often not adequately trained to recognize dementia.”

Stigma associated with dementia is mainly due to a lack of information and understanding of the disease. Social isolation is one of the consequences of stigma, which also affects the caregiver. Stigma leads to diagnoses delays, as well as delays in social support and health assistance.

Marc Wortmann, Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Disease International, said:

“Public awareness about dementia, its symptoms, the importance of getting a diagnosis, and the help available for those with the condition is very limited. It is now vital to tackle the poor levels of public awareness and understanding, and to drastically reduce the stigma associated with dementia.”

In most cases, dementia patients are being cared for by informal caregivers, family members, friends, and even children. The authors point out that caregivers are particularly vulnerable to mental disorders, including anxiety and depression, as well as suffering from poor physical health.

A considerable number of caregivers have had to give up their jobs, or move from full-time to part-time employment, and suffer economically.

Caregivers should be involved in the design of programs, so that support is promptly given to both patients and those who care for them. In both rich, medium income and poorer nations, community-based services may provide vital support for families or individuals who are caring for people with dementia. The more effective caregivers support systems are, the longer the patient may remain at home, before going into high-cost residential care.

Dementia is a syndrome, typically long-term (chronic), with several causes. It affects behavior, thinking, memory, and the individual’s ability to perform everyday tasks. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

Written by Christian Nordqvist