More than 55 million people worldwide are living with dementia, which is currently incurable and often neglected, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, warning the number might swell to 78 million by 2030.
The WHO released its global status report on the public health response to dementia, looking at the progress made toward the 2025 global targets for dementia laid out by the WHO's Global Dementia Action Plan of 2017.
“Dementia robs millions of people of their memories, independence, and dignity, but it also robs the rest of us of the people we know and love,” said Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general.
“The world is failing people with dementia, and that hurts all of us. Four years ago, governments agreed on a clear set of targets to improve dementia care.”
Dementia is caused by different diseases and injuries that affect the brain such as Alzheimer's disease or strokes, said the WHO, adding more than 60% of those with dementia live in low- and middle-income countries.
By 2030, the number of people living with dementia is expected to increase to 78 million.
“Dementia mainly affects older people, but it is not a normal or inevitable part of biological aging. That's a message we want to send very strongly,” said Katrin Seeher of the WHO's Mental Health and Substance Use Department.
- Dementia can also attack people under 65
“It can also happen in people who are younger than 65. In that case, we speak of young-onset dementia. And that proportion is roughly 10% of all dementia cases. So, it is not only a problem of the older population."
Tarun Dua, unit head of the WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Use, said that while there is no cure for dementia yet, measures can help prevent it.
She cited tobacco use or harmful alcohol use as factors that can contribute to dementia and said managing conditions like hypertension, diabetes, depression, and social isolation could help stem it.
"What you think about as being good for your heart is also good for your brain. And we should incorporate those healthy lifestyles to decrease those risk factors, and thus, we can decrease the risk of having dementia," said Dua.
According to the WHO report, only a quarter of countries worldwide have a national policy or plan for supporting people with dementia and their families.
Half of these countries are in WHO's European region, with the remainder split between the other regions.
At the same time, the number of people living with dementia is growing, and the WHO estimates that 8.1% of women and 5.4% of men over 65 years are living with dementia. This number is estimated to rise to 78 million by 2030 and 139 million by 2050.