The World Health Organization warns few governments are providing necessary care for many of the more than 55 million people living with dementia at a time when this debilitating brain condition is growing rapidly around the world.
A stock-taking analysis of WHO’s 2017 Global Action Plan on Dementia shows few states are implementing measures for caring and treating people living with this condition.
It finds only a quarter of countries worldwide have a national policy or plan for supporting people with dementia and their families. It warns too many governments are unprepared to deal with this growing public health problem, which affects 55 million people globally - more than 60 percent in low-and-middle-income countries.
The World Health Organization estimates the number of people with dementia will rise to 78 million by 2030 and an estimated 139 million by 2050. WHO estimates the global cost of dementia also is expected to balloon from the present $1.3 trillion to $2.8 trillion by 2030.
Technical Officer in WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Use, Katrin Seeher, said too many countries lack a basic comprehensive policy to respond to the challenges that lie ahead.
“We also need to strengthen the health and the social care system in countries to ensure that there is universal access to dementia diagnosis but also to treatment and care. And we especially need to reduce the gap that exists between high-income and low-and-middle income countries and between urban and rural areas,” said Seeher.
Dementia is caused by a variety of diseases and injuries that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease or stroke. It mainly afflicts people over the age of 60 and can affect memory, other cognitive functions, and make it difficult to perform everyday tasks.
Tarun Dua is Unit Head of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Use. While there is no cure, she said reducing risk factors can potentially prevent up to 40 percent of dementia cases.
“For example, healthy diet. Looking at the risk factors, which are the same risk factors for noncommunicable diseases, such as tobacco use or harmful use of alcohol. Managing conditions like hypertension, diabetes, or depression—social isolation. These are the things that we can do promote our brain health and decrease the cognitive decline and the risk for dementia,” said Dua.
WHO reports people with dementia require primary health care, specialist care, community-based services, rehabilitation, long-term care, and palliative care.
Health officials note dementia is not a normal part of aging. But countries must be prepared to support and care for the increasing numbers of people that will be afflicted with this disabling condition in the years to come.