• Saturday, February 24, 2024

HEALTH

Dementia cases expected to double by 2040

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

The prevalence of dementia in England and Wales is anticipated to nearly double, reaching 1.7 million by 2040, according to a study by University College London. This rise is occurring at a much faster rate than previously expected and is linked to widening social inequalities, obesity, and unhealthy lifestyles, The Times reported.

The findings indicate that future dementia cases could be 42% higher than earlier projections, imposing a significantly larger burden on the NHS and social care services. Presently, around 900,000 people in England and Wales are estimated to have dementia, but this number could escalate to 1.2 million by 2030 and 1.7 million by 2040 if current trends persist.

The study, published in The Lancet Public Health, analysed data from individuals aged 50 to 80 residing in England between 2002 and 2019.

Between 2008 and 2016, the incidence of dementia rose by 25 per cent.

The study identified a potential “epidemic” of obesity and type 2 diabetes, both known risk factors for dementia, as contributing factors. Additionally, worsening risk factors in socially disadvantaged groups and enhanced survival rates among stroke patients were considered as possible explanations.

The research indicated that adopting healthier lifestyles, such as quitting smoking, losing weight, and reducing alcohol consumption, could prevent up to four in ten cases of dementia.

The research team updated a 2017 forecast, which had predicted 1.2 million dementia cases by 2040 based on older data indicating a decline in dementia rates.

The new prediction of 1.7 million sufferers paints a more alarming picture.

Dr Yuntao Chen, the lead author from the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, expressed concern about the impact, stating, “Not only will this have a devastating effect on the lives of those involved, but it will also put a considerably larger burden on health and social care than current forecasts predict.”

Professor Eric Brunner, also from UCL, emphasised the urgency of the issue, stating, “Our research has exposed that dementia is likely to be a more urgent policy problem than previously recognised — even if the current trend continues for just a few years.”

In England and Wales, dementia stands as the leading cause of death, highlighting a significant challenge for the social care system.

Despite promises of reform from various governments, the system has failed to keep pace with the increasing demand, prompting charitable organisations to view the latest figures as a critical signal for immediate improvements in dementia care.

James White, Head of National Influencing at the Alzheimer’s Society, stressing on the urgency of addressing this issue said dementia represents the most pressing health and social care concern of our era. He added, unless proactive measures are taken, the widespread impact of dementia, both on individuals and the economy, will continue unabated.

Studies indicate that one in three individuals born in the UK today will develop this terminal condition during their lifetime, further straining the already overburdened social care system.

He further emphasised the vital role of high-quality social care stating that effective social care can significantly enhance people’s lives.

However, individuals with dementia, who constitute the largest user group of social care services, are grappling with a system that is expensive, difficult to access, and frequently fails to meet their unique needs.

In response to the recent data, Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, underscored the significant danger posed by dementia. She emphasised the looming threat not only to the general public but also to the already strained healthcare and caregiving workforce. She said the figures clearly indicate that without immediate intervention, dementia will intensify the strain on the healthcare system, affecting millions of lives and casting a shadow over the future.

The advent of potential treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, the primary cause of dementia, presents a significant opportunity to mitigate the widespread devastation this condition causes. However, maintaining this progress is crucial to liberate both individuals and society from the fear, harm, and heartbreak associated with dementia, she said.

Dementia encompasses a range of symptoms resulting from nerve cell damage in the brain, including memory loss, confusion, language difficulties, and behavioral changes. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for the majority of cases, around two-thirds. While there is no cure, there are new drugs, such as donanemab and lecanemab, which have shown promise in slowing memory decline.

Despite not yet being approved for NHS use, these drugs could become widely accessible by 2040, contingent on substantial improvements in NHS diagnostic services. Trials have indicated their potential, leading to optimism about combating the disease.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health said they are committed to advancing dementia research. An annual budget of £160 million has been allocated by 2024-25 to expedite treatment and technology advancements. Additionally, the department’s Major Conditions Strategy is geared towards setting comprehensive standards for dementia care at every stage.

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