Dementia could ‘overwhelm health and social services’

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that dementia could “overwhelm health and social services, including long-term care systems”, if the projected number of cases continues to rise as predicted.

WHO said that as the global population ages, the number of people living with dementia is expected to triple from 50 million to 152 million by 2050.

“Nearly 10m people develop dementia each year, 6m of them in low- and middle-income countries,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “The suffering that results is enormous. This is an alarm call: we must pay greater attention to this growing challenge and ensure that all people living with dementia, wherever they live, get the care that they need.”

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The estimated annual global cost of dementia is US$ 818bn, equivalent to more than 1% of global gross domestic product.

The total cost includes direct medical costs, social care and informal care (loss of income of carers). By 2030, the cost is expected to have more than doubled, to US$ 2trn, a cost that WHO says could undermine social and economic development.

The Global Dementia Observatory, a web-based platform launched by WHO yesterday, will track progress on the provision of services for people with dementia and for those who care for them, both within countries and globally. It will monitor the presence of national policy and plans, risk reduction measures and infrastructure for providing care and treatment. Information on surveillance systems and disease burden data is also included.

“This is the first global monitoring system for dementia that includes such a comprehensive range of data,” said Dr Tarun Dua, of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. “The system will not only enable us to track progress, but just as importantly, to identify areas where future efforts are most needed.”

To date, WHO has collected data from 21 countries of all income levels. By the end of 2018, it is expected that 50 countries will be contributing data.

Initial results indicate that a high proportion of countries submitting data are already taking action in areas such as planning, dementia awareness and dementia-friendliness (such as facilitating participation in community activities and tackling the stigmatization of people living with dementia) and provision of support and training for carers, who are very often family members.

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Joe Peskett

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