Given the cruel nature of dementia, the need to tackle the disease is as pressing as ever - but recent data suggests that we may have hit 'peak dementia', particularly in Western Europe. If the predicted boom is smaller than previously feared, why might this be, and does it really change anything?
“These old studies support the idea of a continuing ‘dementia epidemic’, but are now out of date because of changes in life expectancy, living conditions and improvements in health care and lifestyle”
Most people are now aware that dementia is a serious problem and that it already causes a strain on resources, but according to new analysis rates are hitting a plateau in some developed nations. Data from the 80s still drives policy today, but some experts now believe this could be an inaccurate representation of dementia today and in the future. After a wider analysis of a number of countries, new diagnoses in the majority failed to meet forecasts, and in the UK there were 22% fewer people over 65 being diagnosed than had been predicted.
“Incidence and deaths from major cardiovascular diseases have decreased in high-income countries since the 1980s. We are now potentially seeing the results of improvements in prevention and treatment of key cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol reflected in the risk of developing dementia.”
While this is certainly good news, it does little to diminish the human cost in those afflicted and it should be treated as a minor victory, considering dementia is, and will still be a huge challenge, even with a stable diagnosis rate.
“It is important to remember that the number of people over age 85 is the fastest growing age demographic, with about 40% currently estimated to be affected by dementia,”
It may be slightly less of a problem than figures initially suggested and lifestyle and medication changes may indeed have preventative effects - but it's important to note that while figures may have hit a plateau, they're still lamentable and inexorably linked to old age. If we are going to live longer and healthier lives, it would be foolhardy to take 'our foot off the pedal'; dementia is still an 'enemy' we'll have to overcome.
“While this study is welcome in showing that the percentage of people in particular age groups developing dementia could be getting smaller, the overall number of people with dementia is still set to increase as more people live into their 80s and 90s,”
Societal changes have staved off an earlier epidemic but it could equally mean that even if relative health can delay age-related neural decline, it could simply manifest at a later age. We may see larger numbers of patients exhibiting symptoms later on as populations get older - which is better than nothing, but is simply not good enough in the long run. Perhaps the goal should be to focus and eliminate dementia itself, arriving at a point where no person has to suffer regardless of how small the percentage becomes.
“With no cure, few effective treatments and an economic impact exceeding that of cancer or heart disease, dementia remains the most critical health and social care challenge facing the UK.”
Read more at The Guardian