Research published this week in the Lancet Public Health, predicts that the estimated number of people with dementia will increase from 57.4 million in 2019 to 152.8 million by 2050, an increase of almost 200%.

The research, which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, suggests that trends in population aging and population growth will likely play major roles in global prevalence of dementia, although their relative importance varies depending on the geographical region.

Not all countries will see the same increases, with smallest percentage changes in the number of projected dementia cases in high-income Asia Pacific (53% [41–67]) and western Europe (74% [58–90]), and the largest in north Africa and the Middle East (367% [329–403]) and eastern sub-Saharan Africa (357% [323–395]).

global prevalence of dementia

What can we do about it?

The paper’s main suggestion is that governments, particularly those that are indicated to be hit hardest, need to start planning for availability and allocation of public health resources in the next few decades to ensure they are ready to provide care for those who need it. Preparation for global health crises has never been clearer than during the past couple of years, in which lack of preparation for novel viruses has overwhelmed hospitals all over the world.

The paper also recommends tackling three dementia risk factors included in the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2019 (high body-mass index, high fasting plasma glucose, and smoking). These will not fix the issue of rising dementia prevalence, but may help somewhat.

Lead researcher Emma Nichols, from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, says:

“Even modest advances in preventing dementia or delaying its progression would pay remarkable dividends. To have the greatest impact, we need to reduce exposure to the leading risk factors in each country. For most, this means scaling up locally appropriate, low-cost programmes that support healthier diets, more exercise, quitting smoking and better access to education.”

Read the full paper here