In the second article of this series we will look at the future of dementia. Dementia is the overarching term for a family of different diseases that lead to memory impairment in elderly people. Alzheimer’s disease is the most abundant form of dementia, and in the UK 62% of dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s disease (the second most common dementia is vascular dementia, accounting to about 17% of dementia cases) (1).
A growing burden
Worldwide the number of dementia patients is expected to increase from the current 46 million to over 130 million by 2050 (2). To put this data in perspective, the population of Spain is 46 million people. There’s a new case of dementia every 3 seconds somewhere in the world (2). The high income countries will see a rise in dementia cases by 116% while in the low-income countries the rise will reach 264% between now and 2050 (2).
Dementias are one of the most expensive diseases for the healthcare system as patients require long-term care with daily activities like washing, getting dressed and eating. It has been estimated that the US health care would save an astonishing 40 billion dollars annually if the age of onset for Alzheimer’s disease was delayed by just 5 years (3). The estimated annual cost of dementia worldwide is 818 billion dollars, more than the current US defence budget. By 2018 the cost may reach a trillion dollars. Remarkably, if dementia were a country, it would be the 18th largest economy on earth (2).
It's not all bad news
On a positive note, dementia is the best funded sub-field in aging research. In 2011 president Obama signed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) into law with the goal of creating a national plan to overcome Alzheimer’s disease (4). This year the Alzheimer’s Accountability Act was enacted, this law gives the NIH the task of submitting an annual “Professional Judgment Budget” directly to Congress, thus bypassing the usual bureaucratic budget procedures. This budget should fund the National Alzheimer’s Plan goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s disease by 2025 (5). Only two other areas of biomedical research have received a “Professional Judgment Budget”, cancer and HIV/AIDS (6).
World Alzheimer Report 2015, The Global Impact of Dementia: An analysis of prevalence, incidence, cost and trends. Alzheimer’s Disease International (2015). http://www.alz.co.uk/sites/default/files/pdfs/world-alzheimer-report-2015-executive-summary-english.pdf
Balin AK (1993). Testimony in support of biomedical aging research. AGE 16: 75-76.
National plan to address Alzheimer’s disease: 2014 update.