More than 35 million people around the world live with
Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, according to last week' s report by the Institute of
Psychiatry at King’s College London, the most in-depth assessment of this brain-destroying illness and an ominous forecast for our ageing population.
The new count is about 10% higher than recent predictions, because earlier research underestimated the growing impact of Alzheimer’s in developing countries.
Barring a medical breakthrough, the World Alzheimer Report
projects dementia will nearly double every 20 years. By 2050, it will affect a
staggering 115.4 million people.
As many health experts would agree, this is an emergency.
Along with North America, the UK and other developed countries have long been bracing themselves for this news. But the report also aims to raise awareness of the
threat in poorer countries, where finally, people are living long enough to face
what is mostly a disease of the 65-and-older population.
In poorer countries, dementia is a hidden issue and misunderstood. For
example, in India, it is widely believed that dementia is a normal part of
aging – when it’s not. The mistake isn’t confined to the developing world
either. Even in Britain, researchers found, just over half of the families
caring for someone with dementia believed the same thing.
The 35.6 million cases of dementia worldwide by 2010
includes nearly 7 million people in Western Europe and South
and Southeast Asia, about 5.5 million in China and East Asia and about 3
million in Latin America. The total for North America is 4.4 million. The disease afflicts one in
eight people 65 and older, and nearly one in two people over 85.
The report urges the World Health Organization to declare
dementia a health priority and for national governments to follow suit. Recommendations
include major new investment in research to uncover the cause of dementia and
how to slow, if not stop, the creeping brain disease that gradually robs
sufferers of their memories, abilities and identities, eventually killing them.
There is no known cure – today’s drugs can only alleviate symptoms, and temporarily at that. Scientists aren’t even sure what causes Alzheimer’s. The
best that they can offer is drugs that slow its progression by targeting beta-amyloid, the gunky substance that
builds up in patients’ brains. We must just hope that the drug companies aren' t in such a tangle with their research.